PORTLAND, Ore. — Trail Blazers forward Meyers Leonard has found himself after the hardest year of his life.
It started at the beginning of last season, when Leonard gambled by turning down Portland's $40 million contract extension offer. Then he dislocated his shoulder twice, finally succumbing to surgery and watching as his team went to the playoffs.
Now, he views the adversity as a victory of sorts — because it brought him to the place he's at today.
"I believe that everything happens for a reason," he said. "And I'm flat-out excited for what the future holds."
Portland's 7-footer is poised to return from the shoulder injury that finally caught up with him last season. His rehab is ahead of schedule and he's been practicing with the team during training camp. There's no timetable yet for his return to games.
The Blazers, who defeated the Utah Jazz 98-89 on Monday night in the preseason opener, are looking to build off of last season's success when they surpassed expectations by going 44-38 with a second-round playoff appearance.
Leonard, who turned down that initial extension offer last October, embarked on last season hopeful that he'd make a statement in his fourth NBA season. He had already turned heads with his 3-point shooting ability, a rarity for a big man.
He would go on to play in 61 games, including 10 starts, with a career-high 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. He also had 86 3-pointers.
But he dislocated his shoulder in November during a game against the San Antonio Spurs and missed seven games. He dislocated it again during a practice in March and about a week later it was determined he'd need surgery for a torn labrum.
Leonard knew all along something was wrong and it just added to his anxiety. For the first time in his life he feared failure, he said.
"It was the hardest year of my life. Not even close. I lied to my entire family the whole year. I told them I was OK. I wasn't. I come from nothing and I turned down $40 million," he said.
His outlook started to shift this summer after he signed a four-year, $41 million deal with the Blazers.
Leonard said he keeps two journals each day, one to record all that he is thankful for, and another to keep him focused on his life goals. He said his faith has also grown.
He's not self-conscious about revealing his foibles or the transformation.
"I think a lot of times listening to other players speak, listening to myself speak in the past, it feels like a lot of times it's scripted answers, kind of giving you guys what you want to hear. Certainly, sometimes that's just the way it is," he told reporters when training camp opened. "But I like to be a little more open, be honest, with things. That's just the way I am, I guess."
Leonard has already been at work this summer on his game. He's looking to do different things in the post this season and be "more of a threat outside of spacing the floor." He's good with whatever role falls his way, too.
"My goals and my thoughts going into this season is to do to whatever I can to help the team," he said. "I'm in a really good place in my life right now, on and off the court. I'm very confident, my mind is clear. I'm excited for this year."