But it's actually just the beginning.
Leonard led the Spurs in scoring for the third straight game in the now completed Finals, guiding them to a 107-84 victory in Game 5 and securing the franchise's fifth championship. So in some literal sense, at least, Leonard's MVP trophy really did cap things off—both the 2013-14 campaign itself, and his own personal evolution into a bona fide franchise cornerstone.
He did it by embracing the challenge of guarding the best player in the known universe, doing his best to make LeBron James work for everything. James got his numbers, scoring at least 22 points and shooting at least 47 percent in all five Finals contests.
But Leonard was in James' space throughout the series, riding him into the lane, contesting step-back jumpers and adding whatever small degree of difficulty he could.
He did it by saving the very best stretch of his career for a time when it was most necessary:
Kawhi Leonard has scored 20+ in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. #FinalsMVP— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 16, 2014
He did it by, literally, making history:
Only five players have been Finals MVP but not an All-Star. Kawhi would be the 6th. Chauncey Billups was the last in 2004 @ESPNStatsInfo— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 16, 2014
The only NBA Finals MVP younger than Kawhi was Magic. The only NBA Finals MVP older than Duncan was Kareem.— Jeremy Lundblad (@JLundbladESPN) June 16, 2014
Kawhi power rankings: 1) Leonard 2) [searching] [still searching]— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) June 16, 2014
And most importantly, he did it all with a quintessentially Spurs-ian modesty, displaying a practically allergic response to the spotlight:
Kawhi Leonard, Finals MVP: "Right now, it's just surreal to me."— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) June 16, 2014
Leonard's humility, as much as anything, is emblematic of why he's the perfect Spur. He doesn't say much, doesn't care about attention and operates within a system for the betterment of everyone else in that system. I'm not sure you could come up with more basic pillars of San Antonio's dominance than those.
So, being the symbol of perfect Spurs-ness that he is, it was perfectly appropriate for the rest of San Antonio's selfless players—who fully appreciate the sacrifices required to play the way they do—to mob Leonard when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced his name as the Finals MVP:
So, what's next?
Well, a parade, for starters—probably one in which Leonard looks mostly uncomfortable and tries to say as little as possible.
After that, the Spurs will have some interesting offseason checkpoints ahead of them, including Tim Duncan's opt-out clause, Tony Parker's little-known $3.5 million buyout option, per ShamSports.com, and the unrestricted free agency of Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Matt Bonner.
In fact, when looking at all those things together, it becomes clear the Spurs built in a "kill switch" for the franchise, one they probably would have flipped if they'd fallen short in the Finals for the second season in a row.
But now, thanks largely to Leonard, there's no reason to flip that switch. Everything we saw in five remarkable Finals games indicates this is a run that can continue, and Leonard's undisputed ability to carry a bigger load than anyone is the reason why.
Think about it: San Antonio won 62 games this past season, survived a brutally tough Western Conference playoff ladder and dispatched the two-time defending champs in five games—four of which San Antonio won by at least 15 points.
Leonard came to life in Game 3, exhorted by his teammates to take on an aggressive approach that swung the momentum of the series. In all, he averaged 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds on 61.2 percent shooting. And from Game 3 on, he was San Antonio's best player by a mile.
"He not only took what the defense gave him, he took what he wanted as well." Dwyane Wade on Kawhi Leonard— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) June 16, 2014
With a guy like that—who, still just 22, figures to get better and better in the coming years—the Spurs can double down on all the preservative practices they employed to keep their big names fresh this past season.
Rest the vets, Pop. Cut their minutes, sit Duncan out for weeks at a time during the 2014-15 regular season and keep Manu Ginobili on ice until January if you want.
Leonard just proved he can handle things himself.
Duncan: "I'm honored to be on this team right now, with the future Kawhi has."— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) June 16, 2014
This is probably where we should start questioning whether the Spurs will be able to do this again. After all, the offense they treated us to in these Finals was a work of art. And they were nearly as good on the other end. Perhaps there's reason to believe they won't reach those heights with the need for Finals vengeance against Miami now satisfied.
Maybe they'll want to go out on top, but Leonard makes it so they don't have to go out at all.
The Spurs made Leonard who he is, transforming him from a limited, undersized power forward to a do-it-all wing with a seemingly limitless ceiling. In a strange way, he paid them back by dominating on the big stage and providing the organization an opportunity to sustain the already unnaturally long life of its dynasty.
San Antonio got an unpolished player with an exceptional work ethic and no ego, then summarily molded him into an ideal system superstar. In turn, that player—Leonard—is now strengthening the very environment that created him.
It's hard to describe what that means. Is this what a perpetual motion machine looks like? Is this a perfectly self-sustaining system? Is Kawhi Leonard the first source of fully renewable energy on the planet?
Of course, to keep the system running, the Spurs will have to make sure Leonard continues to be a part of it.
Just a friendly reminder that the Spurs will have to sign Kawhi to an extension by Oct 31 so he doesn’t become a RFA next summer.— Andrew A. McNeill (@drew_48moh) June 16, 2014
There are plenty of reasons to believe Leonard will remain with the Spurs, not the least of which is the pleasantly fuzzy feeling he's got as a Finals MVP right now. There's also the fact that San Antonio can pay him more than any other team, that he fits perfectly into the Spurs' ego-free atmosphere, the fact he won't find a better place to compete for a title.
But the Spurs never max out their stars, so it's worth wondering if Leonard might rather go someplace where he can cash in, grow his brand and endorse any number of aggressively flavored soft drinks.
Are you done laughing yet?
Leonard doesn't want to be "the man" in the sense so many NBA players do. He doesn't care about spotlights or interviews, sodas or headphone deals. He wants to win, and he's in the best place to do that.
The Spurs won't be stingy. They know what they have, and even if they can pitch ongoing title shots as a way to lower their costs a bit, don't expect a low-ball offer. And hey, maybe they can throw in a bonus or two:
Popovich : "I haven't run a play for Kawhi all Finals,in the future we might a little more "— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) June 16, 2014
Once Leonard is back on board with a long-term extension, there won't be any reason to talk about the Spurs starting over. This thing they have going can just continue apace for however long their veterans want to stick around.
Instead wondering whether we've seen the last of the Spurs' dynasty—something we've engaged in every year for the past decade or so—we're now left discussing how ridiculously strong they look going forward.
All thanks to Leonard.