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Fred VanVleet reacts to Kawhi Leonard’s departure and trade rumors

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It’s been almost a month since Rockford native Fred VanVleet and the Raptors clinched their first ever NBA title. Since then, the team has taken a hard loss with Kawhi Leonard deciding to go home.

Leonard signed a 3-year, $103M max contract to play for the Los Angeles Clippers. VanVleet says while he understands why his now former teammate chose that route, it was still tough news to take in.

“It wasn’t as extreme as what everybody else reacted to it,” VanVleet explained. “It was just kind of like ‘Alright. Cool.’ That’s what he wanted to do.”

The Auburn High School alum says he and others got a text from Leonard before the news became public.

“You’re a little taken back because you put yourself… You try to think about what mindset he’s in,” VanVleet said. “We all wanted him back and we thought we had a good chance. [Toronto is] a hard place to leave. I don’t think it was an easy choice for him. I think that’s kind of why you saw it drawn out a little bit but he decided to go home and that’s the decision he wanted to make so you support him and you’re happy for him.”

Before Leonard made his departure official, rumors swirled around of VanVleet and Pascal Siakam being part of a possible trade deal in order to get Paul George and Russell Westbrook from the Thunder – all to keep Leonard in Toronto. That obviously never happened, but VanVleet says he understands the franchise may still want to rework the team with Leonard gone. If he is traded, VanVleet understands it’s all just business.

“That’s the business of the NBA,” VanVleet admitted. “It’s not new to me. I’ve been in trade rumors since I’ve been in the NBA. You just ignore them and if you get that phone call, you deal with it then but we knew that Kawhi leaving was a possibility and with him leaving, obviously the whole franchise changes and they have to decide what they want to do and which direction they want to go. You understand you’re in the middle of that, but it’s been nothing substantial so far and we’ll see what happens going forward.”

VanVleet has only been in the NBA for three years, all with the Raptors. He said he’d like to keep it that way.

“Obviously I don’t want to be traded, I don’t,” VanVleet said. “Not many guys do. You play the hand that you’re dealt and we’ll see what happens going forward.”

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