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NBA Free Agency 2017: Kyle Lowry announces return to Raptors on 3-year deal

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There’s a deal for Lowry, whose return means the Raptors will head into 2017-18 a competitive force in the Eastern Conference.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Lowry is returning to the franchise that he helped put on the NBA map. After months of guesswork and overreacting to every tidbit of reporting, Lowry himself revealed in a Player’s Tribune article that he has agreed to return to the Raptors. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has the details: it’s a close-to-max for three years.

While news swirled throughout the week that Lowry would have a contract in the $22-28 million per year range, he and the Raptors seem to have found a happy medium between length and dollars paid.

This deal now keeps Toronto’s window of pseudo-contention open until after the 2019-20 season; at which point Lowry and Serge Ibaka’s new deals will expire and DeMar DeRozan will have a $27.7 million player option to consider at age 31. This is about as fortuitous a turn of events as the Raptors could have hoped for. No longer will the team or its fans have to fret over a world in which a 35 or 36-year-old Lowry is making $40+ million.

For those who want to see the longest sustained run of success in franchise history continue, this is great — and absolutely necessary — news. DeRozan has his name announced last before games, and will likely hold just about every Raptors record by the time his career is over, but Lowry is indisputably Toronto’s best and most important player.

Before wrist surgery sidelined him for 21 games during the stretch run, and a freak ding to his ankle ended his playoff run prematurely, Lowry re-upping with the Raptors felt more like a formality than an actual question to be entertained. In 60 games this past season, Lowry managed to somehow clear the bar he’d set for himself during his two preceding All-Star-worthy seasons.

He put up averages of 22.4 points, 7.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds with lights-out 46.4 / 41.2 / 81.9 shooting splits. Prorated over 82 games, Lowry would have finished no worse than fourth in the NBA in three-point field goals made. Even with 22 games missed, Lowry finished 13th overall in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus rankings, fourth among point guards behind two-time MVP Steph Curry, the current MVP Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul.

Retaining Lowry ensures a floor — and a high one at that — for the Raptors. With a core of Ibaka, DeRozan and Lowry, the team is still one of the Eastern Conference’s best. With the Western Conference seemingly sucking out all of the East’s talent like an alien from Space Jam, Toronto can still lay claim to being Cleveland’s closest runner up, in position to capitalize on injury or general NBA weirdness if the opportunity strikes.

Locking in to a Lowry-led core does come with its drawbacks, of course. Lowry’s durability has been more to blame for his playoff struggles than any perceived flaws in his game. For the sanity of the fanbase, the Raptors should work to bring down Lowry’s minutes load if at all possible.

Beyond Lowry’s history of freak nicks and ailments, Toronto is under significant financial stress. If Masai Ujiri wants to raise the ceiling of the roster, he’ll have to hope for some surprising development from one of his backburner prospects, or receive a gift in the form of a superstar from some inept team — like Sam Presti and the Thunder got from Indiana Friday night.

Toronto could get lucky. OG Anunoby was considered by many to be a top ten prospect in this year’s draft; maybe there’s star potential within his bouncy 6-foot-8 frame. Ujiri has taken advantage of poorly managed teams before. Basic laws of probability suggest, however, that the Raptors won’t luck into some landscape-shifting star during the remaining years of Lowry’s prime. As a result, Lowry and DeRozan leading the Raptors to a title in the next two or three seasons is a far-fetched pipe dream at best.

People love to view the NBA as a league of absolutes; either you can win a title or you can’t, and if you fall into the second camp, then why bother even trying? With the unstoppable Warriors death machine in line to win multiple titles, that sentiment seems to be an all-time high this summer.

There’s something to be said for the upper-middle ground, though. Blowing it up to try and land a superstar in the draft is far easier in theory than in practice. When you factor in that half of the Eastern Conference seems to be entering tank mode, the odds of the Raptors making a successful tumble to the bottom would be slim.

Every rebuild begins with hope and fantastical whimsy; only a tiny percentage of them result in a ground-up build to a title. Were the Raptors to strip down and set their eyes on the future, it would be a tremendous success story if they even managed to reach the level at which the team has resided over the last four years.

With Lowry back in the fold, the Raptors are going to be competitive for the foreseeable future. Competitiveness equals relevance. Relevance boosts your chances of good fortune. For years, the Houston Rockets were a middling team attempting to hoard assets while maintaining respectability. When James Harden became available in 2012, they were in position to acquire and later extend him. This week, Chris Paul telegraphed a move to join Harden. The Raptors aren’t the Rockets in terms of overall talent, but embracing the challenge of the league’s second tier of good is a boost to Toronto’s organizational equity. A premature rebuild, kickstarted by allowing Lowry to walk for nothing, might have wiped it clean.

The Raptors have now answered their most pressing off-season question. Ibaka is also locked up alongside Lowry. There remain plenty of questions, of course. P.J. Tucker’s departure has left a noticeable hole, Ibaka’s effectiveness at centre leaves Valanciunas’ fit in doubt, Patrick Patterson is still unsigned and the tax crunch is a very real obstacle the Raptors have to negotiate. Regardless of which knots are used to tie up those loose ends, though, Raptors fans can enter next season feeling confident that with Lowry steering the ship, the Raptors will once again be in the mix atop the Eastern Conference.