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Have we really seen the last of Kyle Lowry in Toronto?

With news of Kyle Lowry putting his Toronto home on the market, it may be time to consider the coming end of an era for the Raptors — or not.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

If we were to consider the fate of Kyle Lowry’s house in Toronto, we could draw a purely mercenary conclusion. This city’s real estate market right now is, by dint of the ongoing pandemic, an apparent dearth of housing stock, and an uploading of capital to the already wealthy, entirely favourable to the seller. We’ve been told of a mass exodus from Toronto to the outlying suburbs where “more space” is the prospective buyer’s apparent governing impulse. Yet this push seems more to have affected the city’s renters — or perhaps its most craven Airbnb operators — the people now unable to afford living in the city. It is a harsh reality. I’m also told this could all change in the spring.

With the news of the Raptors making Tampa, Florida their semi-permanent home for the entire 2020-21 season — and, vaccine or not, no promise of return to Toronto after that — it does make some sense for Lowry to get into the real estate game at this moment in time. Now, I admit to having no grip on the current status of the mansion market in Toronto (I’m merely trying to upgrade from my shoebox-sized condo), but the present moment may indeed offer Lowry the absolute highest price for his house. For purely mercenary reasons, it makes sense for Lowry to sell, pocket the profit, and relocate elsewhere in Toronto when the time finally comes for his return. (I myself recommend this, if only because living with a backyard against the Highway 401 seems particularly unpleasant.) As a player, Lowry is known for seeking out any and every small advantage he can, so why not jump on this one too?

There is an additional complicating factor here. As we all know, Lowry’s contract with the Raptors is up at the end of this season. And unlike in year’s past, when his free agency status was the clear priority for the team, Toronto’s timeline, its very foundation in fact, is different now. As Lowry approaches his 35th birthday in March, it’s clear that while the Raptors still benefit from his presence — in obvious and ineffable ways — their future will undoubtedly be without him, if not next season, then sometime soon after that. This is a hard truth to accept because Lowry’s presence in Toronto has been everything. More so than even his teammate and friend DeMar DeRozan, Lowry has come to embody the crazed and insecure nature of Raptors fandom, in all of its reckless, searching, and messy glory. He has also come to define this city’s underdog and ultimately winning spirit. There is no “We the North” era, and certainly no championship, without Kyle Lowry as the Raptors’ captain.

But Lowry has never not been a mercenary, in his way. His trade to Toronto prior to the 2012-13 season was once predicted to be a short stop, his bags packed for New York in late 2013 while the Raptors prepared to rebuild in earnest. Since then, each one of Lowry’s contracts has expired with modest suspense as he sought to test the free agency waters and perhaps draw more money and attention from elsewhere. This is not to say Lowry wanted out of Toronto over the past nine season, it just suggests that if the right deal had come along from another team in 2014 or 2017, or if an extension hadn’t been worked out prior to last season, Lowry was prepared to leave the Raptors. This is not an indictment of Lowry — to the savvy player, the transactional nature of the NBA fosters this kind of thinking. And again, we must remember: the Raptors were ready to trade Lowry before any of history could be made.

Despite the recent rumours of a potential trade, I don’t believe the Raptors will move Lowry this season. There’s no real way to make a deal which would improve Toronto right now without forcing them to take on some sort of bad contract along with only modest assets. Some pie-in-the-sky speculators assume the Sixers or the Clippers, both in need of a little point guard-led organization, could push for a trade for Lowry; but the former seemed unwilling to part with Ben Simmons for James Harden, and the latter has exactly zero enticing assets for Toronto — what is there, really, for the Raptors? Maybe I’m wrong on this, but the ever-cautious Masai Ujiri appears unlikely to make a sudden and marginal move with his franchise’s emotional centre in the middle of a strange and grueling season. (To be clear: circumstances were quite different when Ujiri moved DeRozan, despite how abrupt and almost cruel that trade seemed at the time.) A mercenary sensibility makes sense in the professional basketball business, but perhaps only to a point.

What this means for Raptors fans is hard to fully grasp while the team continues its climb up the Eastern Conference standings in February. The team has been hard to watch at times, and Lowry’s play — thanks in part to injury — has been a touch more erratic than usual. He’s still the team’s bellwether as they move into the playoff picture though, and still the most inspiring voice they have in both the good times and bad. Raptors management knows this, even as they survey the field ahead of this coming off-season, the one they’ve been building towards over the past few years. They also know this future-tense thinking has already cost them in the present (we miss you Serge!). As it now looks unlikely for the Raptors to sign a top-flight player with the salary cap space they’ve worked to maintain after all this time, it’s fair to wonder if letting Lowry walk this summer is indeed the right move.

The pandemic adds an absurd and sad layer to this, with the Raptors barred from Toronto for the time being. But the unfortunate reality remains: Lowry’s time in Toronto with the Raptors was always going to end. And there was always a non-zero chance it would end in a way we fans would not enjoy. That expression “time comes for us all” coupled with the business of the NBA means we don’t often get the happy ending we think we deserve.

Still, our time with Lowry, however it concludes, has been better than most other eras in all of Toronto sports. That, in and of itself, is worth holding in our minds as we march into the future. We’ll eventually retire Lowry’s number, maybe even build him a statue — and, of course, that championship banner will fly forever. No, it’s not everything, but memories can be a bit mercenary too.