With the news this morning that the defending champion Raptors and Kyle Lowry have reportededly struck a deal to keep him in Toronto for one more year, let’s do a little cheer. Even at $31 million, Lowry’s price for the 2020-21 season, the contract is a great bit of business for both player and team.
In the short term, the reasoning here is obvious. The Raptors get to keep an All-Star point guard and basketball genius on their team as its out and out leader. Even if Lowry was injured on the bench, this is a good investment, as having him around as a guide, mentor, totem, what-have-you, is better than not having him — especially in the post-championship glow as the Raptors’ younger players continue to develop their place in the league. There just aren’t a ton of players going right now who can do what Lowry can do, even if what he does is sometimes hard to define. At this point, with Lowry clear and away the greatest Raptor of all time, it always made sense for Toronto to keep his legacy in tact here. (Team president Masai Ujiri confirmed as much at the team’s Media Day.)
To see that dollar figure may give a person pause, however. To put on our general manager hat for a second, $31 million for a 33-year-old point guard (who will turn 34 before the end of this season), is a lot of money for a player likely to start entering some kind of decline. Biology remains what it is, unfortunately. Lowry will make $35 million in the 2019-20 season, the last year of his previous deal, and we’ll soon see just how much he has left in the tank.
The Raptors obviously didn’t need Lowry to be their primary or even secondary scorer last year, but this season he may need to rise to the occasion more often than not, depending on what kind of jump Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and even OG Anunoby make. As has been noted repeatedly, an undersized point guard heading into his mid-30s is usually not an on-court asset for a team. The Rockets discovered that with the atrophying of Chris Paul, and the Lakers are about to risk it all with whatever is left of Rajon Rondo. Toronto is in a different situation with Lowry, but it’s worth noting all the same.
Still, this rounds out as a low-risk investment. Toronto makes a good faith signing with the one player who has been on the team since before the We the North era began. Lowry, meanwhile, continues to build his resume as one of the best point guards of his generation at the highest possible price. Yes, a short term deal is a risk for him, but Lowry likely knows he wasn’t going to see north of $30mil anywhere else, at least not in the summer of 2020. And now with a championship under his belt and the immediate pressure off Ujiri to do something to try and win one, Lowry’s status in Toronto is even more secure. This likely figured into the calculus somewhere too.
Unlike, say, trading DeMar DeRozan — a decision that made a lot of sense both basketball- and contract-wise for Toronto — moving Lowry does not necessarily mean as much of a significant return. (Toronto certainly wouldn’t get a Kawhi-type player in the deal, that’s for sure.) There are teams who could use Lowry’s services, for sure, but it is unlikely one would give up much in the way of assets — and the cost in fan acrimony would be way too high. As it stands, a mid-season trade featuring Lowry continues to feel unlikely; Toronto remains the best fit for Lowry, and vice versa. The Raptors want to compete now and maintain their financial flexibility for the future. This is the best way for Lowry to do the same thing.
And in the summer of 2021, when Lowry’s one-year deal is over, Toronto will still have the inside track on both options. They would be Lowry’s number one suitor, ready with a reasonable longer-term contract that takes him into his twilight years or another one-off deal with cap space to spare. By then Lowry may begin sliding even further down the usage chart (to say nothing of the depth chart), but he’ll still have value in Toronto.
If nothing else, a Raptors team that has Lowry around to help attract the next big-name free agent — say, hmmm, a certain Giannis perhaps — would certainly be a boon. We’ll see how things play out over the next two years before that point.