After last night’s loss against the Detroit Pistons, Kyle Lowry was questioned on the Raptors’ recent struggles, which have slid from “slightly concerning” to “full-on debacle” after yet another soul-crushing loss. One could say this 102-101 loss was rock bottom, but we were already saying that after the Timberwolves loss, and the Magic loss before that. How low can the Raptors go?
Lowry was asked post-game what went wrong down the stretch as the Pistons mounted their furious comeback. It began as a fairly innocuous — if tense — exchange. “Everything. Everything. Keep putting in the same situations over and over and not being successful, something gotta give, something gotta change.” Hmm, something has to change you say? What pray tell could you mean by that, Kyle Lowry?
“I have an idea but Imma keep my mouth shut, keep it professional.”
Welllllll, that’s a loaded statement isn’t it?
So, what could Lowry be referring to when he mentions having an idea? As the Raptors continue to struggle to hold leads, to execute game plans, to flat-out win games, there are a few scenarios to run through here. Let’s hash it out.
Idea #1: Lowry wants to Change Dwane Casey
For many, this is the hopeful reading on Lowry’s idea. There is, and always will be, a loud contingent of fans who are unhappy with coach Casey’s general game plans. The Raptors have improved year over year with him at the helm, but it does often feel like something in his message is either getting lost, or just plain wrong. Far be it for me to second-guess a basketball lifer like Casey, but Lowry may be at wit’s end.
The question then becomes two-fold. Is Lowry arguing for an outright coaching change? He and Casey have been with each other for five years now and while their relationship began in a rocky place, both have pushed each other to new heights. Lowry is a legit all-star, and Casey is, on paper, one of the better coaches in the league. (It’s harder to quantify the latter definitively; and yes, I know how some of you feel already.) It feels extremely unlikely the Raptors would suddenly fire Casey mid-season, which brings me to the second part of my two-fold theory.
Lowry is upset with Casey’s play calls. This is something that probably had the two of them arguing back in the day, and while it is sad to consider it happening now, it could be part of the problem. Lowry doesn’t decide on the team’s playing rotation, and while he has sway over who gets the ball, when, and where, Casey is there to dictate things to a certain extent. When it works, everybody is happy. When it doesn’t, we get Lowry talking about an “idea.” But this brings us to a weird place.
Idea #2: Lowry wants to Change DeMar DeRozan
Just reading that subtitle is giving me a headache. (Or a heartache.) We can point fingers at Casey all we’d like, but he’s not holding a gun to DeRozan’s head saying he must shoot the ball every time down the court. It is exceedingly despairing to watch the Raptors play sound basketball for three and a half quarters only to watch the final six minutes devolve into the DeMar DeRozan Iso Show. When it works, awesome, but when it doesn’t, hooooo boy.
Now, it feels very unlikely that Lowry wants to actually change anything about DeRozan. They have a definitive bond and surely enjoy helping each other succeed. The team’s success has been built on the pairing of their skills, and the joy the two of them have exhibited in each other’s company can’t be faked. That said, I do wonder what Lowry is thinking as he watches DeRozan go into all kinds of contortions to try for a workable shot. Do you think Lowry’s confidence in DeRozan is ever shaken? Do you think he watches a few woeful attempts in a row and say, hey man, let me run with it for a second? Trust among teammates can be a slippery thing. I just don’t know. It’s a contentious idea, really, because to question the Lowry-DeRozan duo is to question the entire concept and identity of the Raptors. Like I said off the top, it’s painful.
Idea #3: Lowry wants to Change Masai Ujiri
But speaking of the Raptors identity, perhaps Lowry is thinking bigger here. He knows the ball is going to be in his, or DeRozan’s hands, a lot. He clearly knows what kind of coach, for better or worse, Dwane Casey is by now. But Lowry must also have some notion — as the anchor and most important member of the team, who is also about to become a free agent — what kind of plans President Ujiri may have in store. I’m not saying Ujiri calls him into his office to explain, but I’d like to believe there is some sense of communion between the team’s top manager and its top player. Maybe I’m being naive.
So then, we arrive at the point we all knew was coming: Could Lowry be subtly (and professionally!) calling out Ujiri and his lack of strong trade moves for the second straight year? The signs here point to yes. Lowry is overworked, he is heavily relied on to make this team function (and win), and he is not always guaranteed a lot of help on a night-to-night basis. It’s not hard, for example, to track Lowry’s frustration at playing with a clear lack of options at the power forward spot. Last night the Raptors got cooked by Tobias Harris because poor Lucas Nogueira had to guard the guy. Is it Bebe’s fault he couldn’t stay in front of a small (power) forward? There’s no way Lowry doesn’t notice problems like this and wonder why nothing is being done. Especially as he abuses his body night in and night out to get the Raptors where they want (and need) to be.
The last high quality Raptors win was on January 10th against the Celtics in Toronto. Both teams were fully stocked, both played like the upper middle-class teams that they are, and the Raptors executed a comeback in the clutch to win. They’ve won other games since then — against the likes of the Knicks and Nets, the reeling Bucks, and the Chris Paul-less Clippers — but they’ve lost more.
The worst part of this recent slide is we’ve been able to track the emotions of these Raptors in quasi-real time. We’ve gone from, it’s just a bump in the road, to “it’s not panic time, it’s concern time,” to where we are now. It’s a place where even the mighty Kyle Lowry is unnerved.
“Yeah. I am. I’m starting to get worried, yeah,” said Lowry. “It’s not going the way we’re supposed to be going and things aren’t changing, so yeah, I’m starting to get worried.”
So, which idea makes sense? And what will the Raptors do, if anything?