This morning, over at Hoops Habit, one of my large adult sons, Justin Rowan — who you may know as the restless and relentless @Cavsanada on Twitter — wrote a piece about the Raptors and their star point guard Kyle Lowry. It reads about as expected, highlighting Lowry’s age, his contract situation, and the crossroads at which the Raptors will soon arrive with him.
The main thesis here is that the Raptors would be foolish — down right “irresponsible” in fact! — to not at least check out the Lowry trade market before he becomes a free agent. On the face of things, this makes sense. Lowry is going to be 31 soon, he’s due for a big raise, and has likely played through his athletic prime. (Even with the improvements he’s made to his body and mind over the past couple of years.) But, in reality, this assertion is totally absurd.
I feel confident in saying there is no way the Raptors will look to trade Lowry at all this season. President Masai Ujiri will not take a side-eyed glance at another team’s roster, nor will he field any phone calls from a rival GM. In fact, if I may be so bold, let me say this: The Raptors should keep Lowry on the roster for as long as humanly possible. The reasons for this — as Rowan does modestly, if ineffectively, point out — are obvious.
First, there’s not a huge trade market for 30-31 year old point guards who are about to become free agents. I highly doubt any contending team, looking for that last piece to put them over the top, will be able to jettison significant enough assets to bring in Lowry, a top 15 player, as a mid-season rental. For rebuilding teams, it makes zero sense to trade for Lowry in the hopes he’ll re-sign there. (Spoiler: Lowry is not sticking around a losing situation in the twilight of his career. Get real.) The in-season trade option is entirely off the table.
Second, there’s the in-house worry Lowry walks away from the Raptors at the end of the season, leaving them with nothing to show for his departure. I understand this fear. Lowry is the Raptors’ best player and while this used to be something of a death knell for the chances of a re-signing (see: Bosh, Chris; McGrady, Tracy, etc.), it’s clear Lowry wants to stay. He even divulged this to Woj and everything. So yes, it does indeed put the ball in Ujiri’s court. Does the team president want to continue the Raptors’ good time run, or risk all that good will by letting Lowry walk? Given all that’s been said about creating a winning culture in Toronto, I’d bet on the former. Yes, signing Lowry ties up money that could be spent elsewhere. But this overlooks a key fact: Lowry is still really, really good at basketball! He’s not just going to fall off a cliff at 32 or 33. (Oh Jesus, I hope not; I turn 33 next year.) Also, as Ujiri surely knows, the Raptors have other options for team improvement.
Which brings us to our final Lowry-adjacent point. It feels more likely the Raptors — if so inclined — will tilt the team in a different direction by packaging some of their younger players to lock in either a legit star player, or some sort of 2nd/3rd piece to complement the Lowry-DeMar DeRozan combination. It’s right there in Rowan’s article — the Raptors have a lot of young players that could be intriguing, cost effective solutions for other teams. Especially teams with, say, disgruntled stars or players looking to escape bad situations (Hi Boogie!). The Raptors even have three more draft picks (two firsts, and a second) coming in the 2017 Draft. There’s no way the franchise can keep them all.
Look, I understand we’re all very attached to Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Terrence Ross (yes, it’s true), et al. But if (and really, when) the Raptors make their commitment to Lowry, they’ll have to decide if they can push all-in with the roster they have, or move pieces to really go for it, thus maximizing the aforementioned Lowry-DeRozan combo. Both of these routes are littered with their own questions and concerns, but they close pretty quickly if the Raptors just abandons Lowry.
Sure, maybe when this is all said and done in a few years, the Raptors will have come no closer to winning a championship. Lowry could break down at 35, and DeRozan will probably continue to largely be what he is. LeBron James will stay the king and all that. Such is life in the NBA.
But the Raptors’ winning culture will have taken root. A former laughing stock team, poorly managed and unable to acquire and keep any players of note, will have achieved the opposite: the Raptors will be regarded as a successful organization.
And the key to all of it remains one Kyle Lowry, who the Raptors should keep for as long as possible.