OAKLAND, Calif. — After the on-court championship celebration, Kawhi Leonard carried the Finals MVP trophy off the court and into the locker room with a big smile. And Leonard rarely smiles.

The Raptors have their first-ever title and Leonard has his second championship. A year ago, he was clouded in mystery and Thursday night at old Oracle Arena, he was clouded in joy — for him.

The question is how long the joy will last in Canada. Leonard will be a free agent June 30 and the Clippers and Knicks are expected to vie for his services.

On the stage, ABC/ESPN’s Doris Burke asked Leonard how this title may shape his future decision. He continued playing poker.

“I’m about to enjoy this with my teammates and coaches and I’ll think about that later,’’ Leonard said.

He forced a trade out of San Antonio after a hostile misunderstanding over his quadriceps injury timetable and it all worked out for the best as he completed a title run and elevates to arguably the NBA’s best player. He entered the interview room wearing red champagne goggles.

“Just the year — a lot of people were doubting me,’’ Leonard said. “They thought I was faking an injury or didn’t want to play for a team. It was disappointing that was out in the media.”

But it’s ancient history.

“The opening-day meeting, the focus was on the now,’’ Leonard said. “Let’s make history here. That’s what I did. I knew they were talented team because they were making runs in the playoffs and I came in with the right mindset. I said [to Kyle Lowry], ‘Let’s doing something special. I know your best friend left, I know you’re mad, but let’s make this thing work out.’ And here we are today.”

Lowry, who indeed was best friends with DeMar DeRozan, traded to San Antonio for Leonard, has grown to appreciate how spectacular Leonard is by being his teammate during Toronto’s championship run. Leonard’s understated style can fool you.

“I think he’s the best two-way basketball player in the NBA,’’ Lowry said. “I’ve seen some stuff from him this year that just you say, ‘Wow.’ You appreciate the work that’s put in. He works extremely hard at his game and works extremely hard on his body. And he loves this basketball thing. He loves it.”

By virtue of the new phrase “load management,’’ Leonard played 60 regular-season games without commissioner Adam Silver on his back.
Leonard has said the lighter load was key to him being healthy enough during the title run.

“It’s great to have teammates on your team that have confidence in you,’’ Leonard said of Lowry’s praise. “It helps give you extra drive, an extra push to be better. When you play or don’t play with someone, you can see how good or not good they are once you’re on a team with them. I guess he’s seeing me now.”

Lowry said it took the playoffs to bring out Leonard’s greatness, perhaps because he played modest minutes and never played back-to-back games in the regular season.

It should not be a surprise after Leonard was a key force for the Spurs’ two straight Finals’ squad, but these playoffs certainly may have lifted Leonard in the stratosphere as the NBA’s best player, only glorified by his modesty, sharing credit and low-key nature. This isn’t a guy posting look-at-me Instagrams.

During the playoff run, it has come to light how the shooting death of his father 11 years ago in Compton, Calif., was the huge motivating factor in his bid to be great and that he would have been a mathematician if not an NBA superstar, always loving his math classes over any other subject.

“I guess [math] just made more sense to me to use in everyday life,’’ Leonard said Wednesday.

Last season was a train wreck for Leonard in his mysteriously chaotic return from a quadriceps injury that resulted in playing just nine games while he rehabbed in New Jersey with his uncle Dennis as adviser. The root of his dissension with the Spurs is believed to be management wanting him back sooner rather than later.

That way of thinking has been put under a new microscope in the wake of Kevin Durant rupturing his Achilles after coming back too soon from a calf strain. And Leonard had a grain of advice as KD looks at a long rehab that will cost him the 2019-20 season.

“Just from my own experience, I can talk from what I’ve been through,’’ Leonard said. “We work so hard to get to this point and the game gets taken away from you, especially with leg injuries. You’re not really able to run or do anything on the floor. So you really just have to change your mindset on things and try to attack each day of getting better and just know that you’re going to play again one day.

“You want to come back as the player that you were. Make sure you come back when you feel healthy and you feel good enough that you feel confident enough in yourself to go back out there on the floor. Know that that day will come. Attack each day. That’s your assignment, to get back to the thing that you love to do.”

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