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Ka-Why Leonard is Staying in Toronto: The Final Four

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We’re down the the four most compelling bits of proof that Kawhi will be a Raptor beyond this summer. Sean Woodley and Jay Rosales are back to usher us into the Finals.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

WE’RE HERE!

After starting with 32 nuggets of tantalizing He Stay proof, the field has been whittled down to just four non-pretenders. Upsets dominated the early rounds. The Lingering Hand still can’t believe it’s not competing in Week 3 of the tournament. Serge Ibaka has surely doused himself in some wild and wacky comfort food in the days since his tough quarterfinal loss to Load Management. A real ass person losing to a health philosophy — only here in the Ka-Why Leonard is Staying Bracket can you get that kind of nonsensical bullshit.

Remaining in the field are still a pair of one-seeds, though both are Vegas underdogs coming into today’s action based on the form each of the four finalists have shown to this point in the tournament. Can the malleable feelings of Sean Woodley and Jay Rosales, or the mighty twitter polls sway the outcomes away from chalk? The only way to find out is to scroll down. Let’s do it.

SEMI FINAL #1

(1) Celebrating Pascal’s Winner vs. (6) Pascal Siakam is Really Good Now

SW: This Raptors season has been largely about Kawhi, it’s true. But it has almost equally been defined by Pascal Siakam’s ascension into the league’s, oh I dunno, top-25? That feels hyperbolic, considering just a year ago Pascal was a fun and fast bench piece whose usefulness in the playoffs was a little hit or miss. Two years ago he was winning G-League Finals MVP while the Raptors were actually playing real playoff games. Now he’s probably about to be ranked higher on the next SI Top 100 list than DeMar DeRozan ever was. It’s absolutely fucking preposterous.

But it’s also probably accurate! Tracy McGrady and Richard Jefferson can undersell Siakam’s growth all they want, but the leap has been profound.

Kawhi’s celebration of Pascal’s winner was a true delight. But it doesn’t happen if Siakam doesn’t make himself a worthy option to throw the ball to on an ISO to close a game. And I’m certain it’s not the only of Siakam’s exploits to receive rave reviews from the team’s best player. Ditching Siakam to go play with Danilo Gallinari’s aging ass feels almost negligent if you’re Kawhi and his camp — especially without seeing Siakam’s development through to the end. This one is really easy for me, Jay. We’ve got a sixth-seed in the final — if you agree, of course.

JR: Did you know that when you google “Kawhi smiling” or “Kawhi smile” or even “Kawhi celebrating”, you’re still getting a heavier dose of Spurs Kawhi, as opposed to Raptors Kawhi? While San Antonio did get a seven-year head start, the consensus has been that he never showed as much emotion as he’s showing with the Raptors. Google doesn’t seem to agree. Typical American bias, surely.

At this point, he’s shown so much emotion throughout the season that I’m almost, dare I say ... getting used to it? Celebrating Pascal’s game-winner was an amazing Kawhi-Is-Staying highlight, but it’s candidacy to advance has run into a juggernaut.

Siakam currently has a VORP of 3.3. In Kawhi’s seven seasons with the Spurs, here’s the list of teammates who posted a VORP higher than 3.3: Tim Duncan in 2014-15 (4.2), and Danny Green the same year (4.1). That’s the entire list! We’ve already mentioned why Kawhi may not find as a good a teammate on the Clippers as Spicy P. What is more shocking is that he’s only played alongside someone with Siakam’s value twice in his career!

I’m with you on this one, Sean. Siakam being really effing good is Finals-worthy.

SW: Because we love the people, we put it to the poll anyway. And because the people are smart, they have firmly backed up our pick.

“Pascal Siakam is Really Good Now” advances.

SEMI FINAL #2

(1) Tim Bontemps Podcast Clip vs. (2) Load Management

JR: Imagine for a second that Kawhi has committed to re-signing with the Raptors. It’s not important when the decision was made nor why. Let’s presume only Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and Kawhi’s agent, Mitch Frankel, are aware.

What’s the motivation to keep it a secret? If Kawhi just came out and said he’s re-signing, wouldn’t that be such a huge monkey off the team’s collective back that it propels the Raptors to their first NBA Finals appearance?

Or maybe, just maybe, the four of them have concluded that Kawhi’s non-commitment is what drives the team to “leave it all on the floor.” The prospect that this might be Toronto’s only season with Kawhi has given each player that extra little incentive to maximize their individual talents. Stay with me here. If the notoriously tight-lipped Masai and Bobby agree with both sides of the coin — that informing the team could have positive and negative effects on the players — then how do you appease everyone? You leak to a credible source that he’s happy! Not to Shams or Woj, whose respective reputations would turn the info into a media storm, but to Tim Bontemps, who is highly regarded in his own right, and would surely spread the word. Dropping little news bits like this satiates hungry Raptor fans, while maintaining the trust established between Kawhi and management.

If you believe this conspiracy theory, welcome to my rabbit hole! It’s a lonely and desolate place. If, however, all your marbles are accounted for, then Load Management is the safe choice. Give me grainy podcast audio for a spot in the Finals!

What say ye, Sean?

SW: I clearly need to smoke more weed.

I ... think I know where you’re going here? I think. Basically what you’re suggesting here is that the evidence to support the assertion that He’s Staying is so overwhelming, so voluminous, that it simply must be that he has already committed to staying, at least to someone behind the scenes. I can almost get on board with that. This entire bracket has been eye-opening. A lot of really encouraging shit has happened this year! Maybe his return is already written in stone.

It’s on the second part where you lose me a bit. The theory that the front office is reticent to share the glorious news of Kawhi’s plans to stick around holds water if you believe the uncertainty about Kawhi’s future is the sole reason why the Raptors might want to go out and try to do the damn thing this year in the playoffs. I just don’t think that’s true. This team has motivating factors out the wazoo — Kyle Lowry teetering into his post-prime, the desire to beat Brad Stevens and his stupid face, Nick Nurse’s quest for validation in year one, all those damn past playoff torments, and a LeBron-free road to the Finals, just to name a handful. If anything, the specter of Leonard’s departure only serves to increase the pressure hanging over every single Raptors playoff game. If the team believes internally that it’s Finals or bust on the keeping Kawhi front, then it seems far more likely that the lads would feel the urge to press the issue any time something goes awry. I love Serge Ibaka, but I don’t need him going into save-the-season mode in round two against Philly.

If Kawhi were already truly committed to sticking around, Masai and Bobby wouldn’t be the only ones privy to the news for long. They would have to tell the team, if not the media. Doing so would unshackle the team, freeing every last man to play as themselves instead of trying to be what they think Kawhi would want them to be. It would erase the prying questions from dolt reporters with nothing better to ask of Leonard up at the post-game playoff podium.

The Raptors and Leonard would approach playoff ball unburdened and unafraid, which in turn would make them unstoppable ... at least until the dumb Warriors beat them in five.

So no, I do not yet believe Leonard has committed to the Raptors. But if he’s gonna, the fingerprints of the Raptors medical staff are going to be all over that shiny new contract. This has to have been the dream outcome for Leonard in the 2018-19 season. Playing in 56 games, at a level at or close-to his 2016-17 borderline MVP form in pretty much all of those games, while the team hums along at a 60-something win pace when he does need a breather, all with a group of doctors and staff who take his health concerns seriously? It’s been just about perfect, man. Very few teams, if any, could have offered that kind of environment to Leonard. Either he’d be too critical to the success of Team X to allow him to rest for a third of the schedule, or he’d be given the leeway to take things at his own pace and be stuck with a rockier, lower-seeded path through the playoffs. Toronto offered Leonard balance, and perhaps a little preferential treatment, about which I am not complaining at all.

Bontemps’ quote on the podcast doesn’t exactly mention the L-word and the M-word, but it hits on everything orbiting around them. Timmy Goodtimes doesn’t get the chance to share his observations without Load Management bringing them to life.

We’re at an impasse. So the poll will decide which kernel of proof moves on to Friday’s final.

“Load Management” advances

We’re all set for Friday’s final — (6) Pascal Siakam is Really Good Now vs. (2) Load Management. The titanic battle we all deserve. Stay tuned.