Riley: “Not a new culture, but to tightening the screws on a culture that sometimes erodes just a little bit.”
How did Meyers Leonard find out he was traded to the Heat?
“To be honest, I was actually in the middle of an offseason workout,” Leonard said Saturday on a conference call with reporters.
The 7-1, 255-pound center looked down at his trainer’s phone and saw the tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“I was like, ‘OK, you’re actually not joking,’” Leonard said. “I walked over and I spoke to my agent, I spoke to my wife. I went ahead and finished the workout. And then afterwards, honestly it was a bit of an odd feeling for me.”
After spending the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Trail Blazers, Leonard is preparing for something new. As part of a four-team trade between the Heat, Blazers, Clippers and 76ers that became official Saturday with the NBA moratorium coming to an end, the Heat acquired Jimmy Butler from the 76ers and Leonard from the Trail Blazers.
“Once I got past the shock of actually being traded for the first time, I was immensely excited,” Leonard said. “That’s because I knew the Heat were interested in me and they saw something in me that could help them win.
“I’m very excited to play for a coach and a staff, under Erik Spoelstra and a legendary guy running the organization such as Pat Riley. I’m very excited, and there are numerous things I’m excited for — the culture, the kind of get-in-there-and-work-hard grit mentality. I can only say I’m very, very excited for this opportunity, to help the Heat win.”
While the addition of Butler will get most of the attention (and deservedly so), the addition of Leonard is important because Hassan Whiteside was sent to Portland in the trade. Leonard is expected to immediately slide in as part of the Heat’s frontcourt rotation to help make up for the loss of Whiteside, along with Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson.
Leonard is due $11.3 million in the final year of his contract this upcoming season. He averaged 5.9 points on 54.5 percent shooting and 3.8 rebounds in 61 games, in 14.4 minutes per game, for Portland last season.
Leonard, who was selected 11th overall in the 2012 draft by the Trail Blazers, shot 45 percent on threes (50 for 111) last season and is a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, a skill the Heat values in its power rotation players.
“I’m excited to learn from coach Spoelstra and his staff and everybody around the organization,” Leonard said, “because although I’ve played seven years, I actually haven’t logged a ton of minutes and I’m just so excited to learn and become the best player I can be. Because when I’m taught something, I’m really able to excel. I love to work and I love to win, so that’s what I plan to do when I come down to Miami.”
The 27-year-old Leonard has averaged 5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds over his seven NBA seasons. Leonard had a career-high 30 points and 12 rebounds in a 119–117 season-ending overtime loss to the Warriors in May. He started two games in each of the past two seasons and 42 in his seven seasons with the Blazers.
Leaving Portland is bittersweet for Leonard.
“I’ve spent seven years in Portland,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time there. And that’s kind of the place my wife and I called home. We got married there. I fully believe I became a man in Portland. I had a lot of good years in Portland.”
But Leonard is starting to move past those feelings. He now wants to learn about his new home.
To speed up the process of getting to know his new team, Leonard plans to attend Sunday’s Heat summer league game in Las Vegas and also hopes to meet with Spoelstra over the next few days. He also has set up a trip to visit Miami next week.
“When I came home after getting traded, I was in a little bit of shock,” Leonard said. “But my wife is ecstatic. She’s excited for a new opportunity. She’s excited for the sunshine. This is not a joke, I came in the house and she knew I was a little bit in shock and she was blaring Will Smith’s ‘Miami.’”