Portland Trail Blazers forward-center Meyers Leonard is nearing his return from the shoulder injury that took him out of commission last March. He is ahead of schedule and should be clear for 5-on-5 live contact, without restriction, as soon as October 8. Coming into the 2016-17 NBA season on newly inked 4-year, $41 million contract, Leonard counts himself extremely blessed to be in his position. At media day on Monday, he opened up to Blazer’s Edge about how truly difficult the last year of his life had been.
“It was a complete nightmare, to be honest with you.” Leonard said. “Backing up into last year, it was the hardest year of my life. Nothing close. I lied to my entire family through the whole year. I always told them I was okay. I wasn’t. I come from nothing and I turned down $40 million (extension), but I think everything happens for a reason.
“My shoulder… it was frustrating. I did it against the Spurs here early in the season. Luckily I was able to bounce back and had a good rehab process to at least get myself back to strength. Honestly, to try to improve my value but also to help the team however I could. I’m a big team guy. I want to do well for the team, and so that was hard for me.
“Then again, at the end of the season I dislocated it again in San Antonio, and that was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I didn’t tell many people, but I went over there and I closed my eyes and all I could do was smile and try to figure out what was going on, but honestly, I think it’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise. My mind is much clearer. I do a mindset routine every morning. My focus is aligned with what I know I can do to be successful on and off the court, my relationship with my wife and everything. So, like I said, I’m in a very good spot in my life and I believe everything happens for a reason and I’m just flat-out excited for what the future holds.”
During his time in Portland Leonard has bounced almost weekly between receiving heavy criticism and heavy praise from polarized fans. Now on the road to full health, with his future secure, there is hope that the fluctuation will settle. Even after an extended, tumultuous reception, Leonard is appreciative of the Portland lifestyle and the support he has received in his first four years with the Trail Blazers.
“Portland has embraced me and I’m trying to do the same,” Leonard said. “There is a reason why I’m staying all day long at my kids camp that I put on here. There is a reason why I try to travel and see everything. I love the organization, the food’s great, and it’s just amazing to think back to what my life used to look like—which I still loved—I was still the same guy, but how blessed I am now. I really try to see that every day when I wake up. I’m just very grateful for where I’m at.”
The first practice of training camp will take place Tuesday morning. Although Leonard is not yet ready to participate, it seems he is making good progress toward a return for the regular season. Regardless, he is happy to be in Portland long-term, and is (knock on wood) nearly out of the woods.