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SCOTT STINSON: I don't know what Kawhi Leonard will do when this season ends, and you don't either

Raptors superstar 
Kawhi Leonard (left) is congratulated by Sixers’ Joel Embiid after Sunday night’s Toronto win.  JACK BOLAND/TORONTO SUN
Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard (left) is congratulated by Sixers’ Joel Embiid after Sunday night’s Toronto win.  -Jack Boland/Postmedia

Did Sunday's magic form a bond with Toronto that Leonard will find hard to break? It’s a reasonable theory, but no more than that

TORONTO, Ont. — Aside from all the obviously ridiculous things about Kawhi Leonard’s shot on Sunday night, now immortalized in countless videos and news photographs that have been studied like they are a recently discovered Leonardo, was the fact that it set off the most un-Kawhi like moment of this season.

Leonard’s guttural yell, which he kept up even as his Raptors teammates fell all over him, was the most emotion he has shown on a basketball court this year, and by a hilariously wide margin. As a point of comparison, consider his reaction to The Shot next to that from The Other Shot, the three-point bomb he hit over Joel Embiid to salt away Game 4 for Toronto. In that instance, it was a casual fist pump, like he had just rolled in a six-foot putt to push a two-dollar bet to the next hole.

After Game 7, when all of the yelling was over, Leonard said the last time he had screamed like that on the court was probably when he won the NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs five years ago. “I just showed emotion,” Leonard said in his deep baritone. “It was great. It was a great feeling.” It is important to note that he made these statements without the slightest inflection in his voice. I showed emotion, Leonard said, showing absolutely no emotion.

All of which is to say, the man remains an utter mystery. It has become something of a parlour sport in Toronto to wonder just what Leonard has been thinking about his time with the Raptors, whether he likes it here at all, if he has given any thought to staying when this season ends. Those of us who have spent time around the team are asked this all the time, and the only correct answer that anyone could offer is this: I haven’t a clue.

That is still the case after Leonard’s miracle shot against the Sixers. Did a moment that instantly became part of the sports fabric of Toronto form a bond that Leonard will find difficult to break? It’s a reasonable theory, but no more than that. Certainly he is no more likely to leave Toronto as result of the series against Philadelphia, but no one can say with certainty that it has made it less likely, either.

And that’s the point that I’m getting to slowly, here: whatever happens in the Eastern Conference Finals won’t be the deciding factor, either. Raptors fans might as well put such thoughts aside and try to enjoy it.

I don’t think this was the case a week ago. As much as Leonard is inscrutable and will make up his mind for his own reasons, the Raptors’ pitch to him would have been severely damaged by a playoff experience that ended in the second round. The Los Angeles Clippers, as well as several other potential suitors, could have offered him a similar basketball situation: come here, and, like Toronto, we will be at least good enough to win a playoff round. Now that Toronto is in the NBA semi-finals, at least they will be able to argue with a straight face that his most likely path to a title remains here, building on what they have done this season — and may yet still do — as they nursed him back to health.

Beyond that, who knows? The NBA speculation business has repeatedly spit out the theory that Leonard and other pending free agents like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have already made up their minds about where they will play next year, which manages to ignore the recent history that Durant didn’t choose to join the Warriors until he was aggressively wooed two summers ago, and Irving was pledging to stay in Boston as recently as last fall. Minds can change, especially when hundreds of millions of dollars are at play.

The Toronto front office treated Leonard this season with the simple approach of making him as comfortable here as possible, and it worked as well as it could. Even though Leonard has done a lot of heavy lifting in the playoffs and his supporting cast hasn’t been great, it’s that same supporting cast that guided to the Raptors to a 17-5 clip when he was taking his rest breaks this season. He said he wanted to be healthy for the playoffs, so that he could crank up his game. They kept him healthy, and boy has he cranked up his game.

And none of that might ultimately matter. Maybe the lure of his L.A. hometown will be too much to resist, even if it means taking far less money than Toronto could offer. Maybe the Toronto weather has undone whatever good work the Raptors’ medical staff has put in. Maybe Leonard has family and friends whose counsel he trusts more than anything Masai Ujiri could provide.

But only Leonard knows, and he definitely isn’t saying. Toronto has tried to love him this season, and he has accepted the warmth as perfunctorily as possible. But there’s no point trying to read into that either. Leonard could win the lottery and respond with a subtle nod.

Is he staying? I have no idea. Everyone wants certainty on the question, but it is still up in the air, like a high-arcing potential game-winner, floating down toward the rim.

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