Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have been on the floor together for virtually every drill of this week’s Raptors training camp. And while time will tell if these are the early days of a budding bromance, coach Nick Nurse said he’s at least seen a level of mutual respect between the two stars.
“Maybe they’re doing some shooting drills and Kawhi hits 19 out of 20, and Kyle is like ‘Man, I didn’t know you shot it that good,’” Nurse said by way of example. “Kyle then goes and answers it by shooting 19-of-20 and Kawhi is like ‘I didn’t know you could shoot that good either.’
“It’s more of them just seeing what each guy has got in their package and maybe just acknowledging it more than anything right now.”
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Lowry spoke to reporters Friday for the first time since Monday’s media day press conference. The four-time all-star had finally talked at media day about DeMar DeRozan, his former teammate and good friend — and other half of the Raptors “bromance,” as it was often described — and promised he’d be all-business when camp opened.
Friday, Lowry grumbled when a reporter accidentally hit him with her microphone, swatting it away with his hand.
But he had kind words for Leonard, the former San Antonio superstar who the Raptors acquired for DeRozan.
“We’ve been in almost every group together. We have to be on the same page, I think we’re going to be on the same page,” said Lowry, in a black baseball cap and grey hoodie zipped up to his neck.
“He’s a heck of a player and us being on the same page makes everything a lot easier and getting everyone else on the same page will come.
“For us it’s where he wants the ball, and we just have to talk. One thing about him right now is he’s talking to everyone … we’re just trying to figure out where we want to be, let him know where we like it and he’s letting us know where he likes it, that’s all communication also.”
Leonard hadn’t played five-on-five basketball since last January. He played just nine games last season due to a quadriceps injury. Lowry was impressed by what he’s seen so far from his new six-foot-seven teammate, who twice was named the league’s top defender.
“One thing I noticed before even playing is he’s a big man, he’s a big dude. And he’s just getting his legs under him,” Lowry said. “Once he gets his legs under him, we’ll see some spectacular things for sure, offensively, defensively, that he can do.”
Do they see the game the way?
“We want to win. That’s all that matters. Winning makes everything else (work).”
The Raptors revamped their offence last season to share the ball more. Think: equal opportunity offence. Without the ball in his hands as much as he was accustomed to, however, Lowry struggled in the early season.
Now Nurse, who was promoted to head coach after Dwane Casey was fired, wants Lowry to take back some control.
“I have asked him to take a little bit more of the offensive thought power. I am not a coach who needs to call a set every time up and down the floor,” the 51-year-old coach said.
“I want him to feel what is going on and run some of the stuff he likes to run, or if he feels like someone needs a shot he can tweak something. If he is tired or out of ideas he can look over and maybe I’ll throw a few at him.
“But I would like him to be more of the guy — like I told him I am putting the ball in his stomach and he needs to run the offence a little bit … taking more of a playcalling role, like a quarterback in football maybe.”
Lowry turned down two days of media requests this week at camp. But if there was anything to be derived from his silence, his teammates say on the court nothing has changed.
“He’s Kyle,” said veteran C.J. Miles. “He’s fiery, pitbull, tries to win every drill, will let you know about it. He’s playing hard. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s a professional.
“There are a lot of things (such as trades) that are a part of this game that we don’t like as individuals, as people, because we make these bonds. Our families get to know each other,” Miles added.
“Those two guys obviously had been together for a long time. I understand that — everybody should. The second we got into camp, and we get in between those lines, we understand what it is. Now we’re teammates. Now you accept those other guys into the family and you start to build a relationship. That’s what it is.”
Lowry, who famously butted heads with Casey when he first arrived in Toronto via a trade in the summer of 2012, has at least had the benefit of having worked with Nurse in the five years the coach had on Casey’s bench as an assistant.
“It’s different. He’s a heach coach now, you move down (the bench) 12 inches it’s a big jump,” Lowry said. “It’s a long year. Every day is going to be a new day and different way of figuring things out.”
Nurse praised Lowry’s basketball IQ, saying it’s among the highest he’s seen. It makes teaching that much easier.
“Instead of me drawing a whole thing out or walking through a whole thing, I can just say ‘Action. Action. Action. Action,’” Nurse said. ”And he’s like ‘Got ya.’ Like he’s got it.”
Lowry and Leonard will see their first official action together on Saturday when the Raptors open the pre-season in Vancouver against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press