Update: ESPN's Marc Stein, among others, is reporting that the Knicks and Raptors are discussing a Lowry deal. Bleacher Report's Howard Beck reports the Raps are looking "everywhere" in a potential Lowry move and would like to get a 1st-round pick in return. More updates as warranted...
Kyle Lowry, come on down! You're the next contestant on Blowing up the Raptors!
Masai Ujiri has little to nothing in common with Bob Barker, but, like the legendary Price is Right host, he's giving things away left and right. At a press conference following the Rudy Gay trade, Ujiri used some cleverly coded language to say the team was entering full-on tanking mode:
"The one thing I can say is we will not be trapped in the middle. I can honestly say we will not be stuck in no-man's land, that's for sure."
He refuses to say it, so I'll say it for him: Masai Ujiri has embraced the tank. There is no more debate on that topic, so let's move on and look to the next, inevitable move.
Gay is gone and most reporting indicates Kyle Lowry is next up on the chopping block. As a good player with an affordable and expiring contract, Lowry should draw more suitors than Gay did. (According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, Sacramento was perhaps the only team willing to take on Gay's mammoth $19.3 million contract for next season.)
The benefits of trading Lowry are twofold: Not only is he easier to move than Gay, but his absence should make the Raptors much, much worse. How much worse? It's hard to say, but no Raptor has been more important to the team than Lowry this year, per NBA.com. When he's on the court, Toronto outscores opponents by 1.9 points per 100 possessions, a mark similar to the 12-9 Phoenix Suns. When Lowry hits the pine/comfortable leather chairs, the Raps fall apart. They are outscored by 7.5 points per 100 possessions, equivalent to the 7-14 Brooklyn Nets, the odds-on favorites to be the first NBA team to have a seventeenth-century-style mutiny against their coach. If NBA teams traveled to some games on the high seas, there's a chance Kevin Garnett would force Jason Kidd to walk the plank.
So, to summarize: Toronto resembles a Western Conference playoff contender with Lowry on the court and a team run by an exceedingly tall Russian oligarch when he's not. Fortunately the Raptors are owned by a benevolent group of Canadian telecommunications companies, so Ujiri should be able to trade Lowry without fear of being sent to the gulags.
The goal should be to get back any combination of young players, draft picks, or cap flexibility. The reality of making trades in the NBA is much more difficult than the idea, but more options should become available after Dec. 15, when players signed this summer become trade-eligible. Teams looking to win now and shore up their point guard position are the likely Lowry suitors. As an added bonus, the Gay trade moved the Raptors close to $4 million under the luxury tax threshold, giving them a little more wiggle room in any potential Lowry deal.
Speaking of potential deals, let's try and speculate as to which teams might be interested in Lowry. Simply put, there aren't that many. Cleveland has Jarrett Jack, Detroit has Stuckey and Will Bynum and Charlotte has Ramon Sessions. A Chicago deal centered around Kirk Hinrich might work but there's a decent chance the Bulls don't want to improve now that Derrick Rose is out. Looking out west is an exercise in futility, as most teams are either set at point guard, really good or really bad. That is, except, for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The team that Lowry torched just last week, the Lakers are fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the West and, with Kobe's return, are definitely not going to tank. Steve Nash's future is murky, at best, and Steve Blake is the only other option. After Dec. 15, a trade of Lowry and one of Julyan Stone or Dwight Buycks for Blake, Chris Kaman and a 2016 second-rounder works. The Lakers get a quality starting point guard while getting the opportunity to shift Kaman's minutes to the more productive Jordan Hill. The Raptors get back two expiring contracts and sink much deeper into Tank Swamp. It's a win-win.
Another option is Washington. John Wall is currently playing 37 minutes a game and Eric Maynor has been awful behind him. Lowry for Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin and a 2014 second-rounder is another potential move that adds no salary to Toronto's books and would help Washington compete this year.
The Holy Grail of a Lowry trade would be a 2014 first rounder, but those are ridiculously hard to come by. Take a look at this list and try to come up with a scenario in which Toronto gets a first-rounder this year. It made my head hurt. No one is going to be trading a pick in the lottery and the Stepien rule (forbidding teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years) eliminates many other possibilities.
In the event of a Lowry trade, starting point guard duties would presumably fall to newly acquired Greivis Vasquez, who, despite a reputation to the contrary, has hurt the Kings' offense when he's been on the court this season. More closely in line with perception, the Kings' defense has performed better with Vasquez on the bench. It's reasonable to expect Vasquez will do a good job running the pick-and-roll with Amir Johnson and/or Jonas Valanciunas, but he's never been a good distance shooter or much of a scoring threat. His destiny is as a backup, but all signs point to him being the starter for the Raptors sooner rather than later. For those of us sympathetic to the idea of a tank, that's a good thing.
Extending our Price is Right analogy from earlier: Gay was like the table set everyone bids on; Lowry is like the motorcycle you win after conquering the randomness of Plinko; DeMar DeRozan is the Showcase Showdown, but it's not quite that simple: Does Ujiri want to part with that last fabulous prize or not? After Lowry, that's the next big question.