Kawhi Leonard has held a lower profile than some of his fellow stars heading toward this summer’s free-agent market, but he certainly is no less desirable to teams holding huge reserves of salary-cap space — such as the Knicks.
Like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant before him, Leonard arrived in New York and faced questions about his intentions for free agency. He took it in better spirits, too.
Asked how he will approach the decision, Leonard said, “Just playing the season right now. Just talk to people, just see what I want to do.”
When he was pressed on what information he is seeking from the people he talks to, he cut it off, quietly replying, “I’m not talking about that right now. We’re going to get there. I’m focused on this season. We can talk about the game.”
After a brilliant career in San Antonio, Leonard had a puzzling 2017-18 season in which he was bothered by an injury and had an odd separation from the franchise. He was traded to the Raptors, who now are 41-16, and has fit in well. “It’s been fun,” he said. “We’re winning and we’re building something here to get to our goal.”
And on nights like Saturday, he arrived in New York and found a crowd not chanting his name — as they did for Irving last week — but chanting for the Raptors as Toronto fans crowded into the Garden.
“It was good to hear,” he said. “We heard the cheering. It gave us an edge and gave us some energy.
“[Knicks fans] still come out and support the team even with a losing record. That’s what you want, I guess, from an organization if you’re playing for them.”
Role change for Vonleh
In a season in which the Knicks have shuffled starters in and out, Noah Vonleh had emerged as a constant, starting the last 37 games and 47 of 54 games before Saturday. But since scoring a career-high 22 points in Brooklyn on Jan. 25, he has fallen into a shooting funk.
He was 0-for-3 Friday when David Fizdale pulled the plug, but the coach said it’s not just the offensive struggles that caused him to make the move.
“I’ve obviously been preaching defense with him a lot,” Fizdale said. “And then just not overthinking the game. I thought he started to put a lot of pressure on himself as the season moved on, trying to live up to this certain level.
“Obviously, we want him to be a consistent player and play to a certain level. But this is the first time he’s played these kind of minutes and has really been asked to do so many different things. I just want to give him a little reboot and see how this helps him, and hopefully it can get him back to playing at a high level.”
Vonleh had nine points and five rebounds off the bench Saturday.