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Let’s check in on the playoff teams that should have traded for Kyle Lowry

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The Raptors decided against trading Kyle Lowry, which most in Toronto celebrated. But if one of these teams had come with a good enough offer, maybe it would have been worth it — for them.

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

To begin: we did not and still do not advocate for the trading of Kyle Lowry. Yes, there’s some thinking that makes sense here, that the Raptors, knowing Lowry could walk this summer in free agency, would have been wise to swap him at this year’s trade deadline to acquire a few assets. This likely would have amounted to a young player or two, and maybe some draft picks, but still: it’s possible that that would have been better than nothing. In theory.

Of course, as we know, the Raptors decided to keep Lowry — maybe because they feel confident in re-signing him, or because they’re fine with letting him walk entirely, or because it might be better to do a sign-and-trade this summer, or, quite frankly, because none of the teams bidding to acquire him came with a good enough offer. Now, there’s some debate here on what constitutes a “good enough offer” for Lowry. He’s a 35-year-old point guard with all-world basketball IQ but not exactly all-world physical ability. The market for Lowry is pretty narrow: he’s for teams with a veteran core gunning for a title right now, today. None of those squads were going to give Toronto an All-Star calibre player in return for their franchise icon — those squads need those players to win the title.

So which teams qualify under that rubric? And how are those squads doing now in the 2021 NBA playoffs after not trading for Kyle Lowry? Let’s review.

Philadelphia 76ers

In one sense, a trade of Lowry to the Sixers almost made too much sense. He’s a proud north Philly product who clearly has much pride in his place of origin. What’s more, despite the presence of Ben Simmons, the Sixers’ functional point guard (who won’t or can’t shoot), the team could use exactly what Lowry provides: three-point shooting, fearless play-making, championship know-how, and an ability to raise the floor of the entire squad. For Philly, loaded with Joel Embiid, Simmons, and Tobias Harris, the ceiling has never quite been the problem, so Lowry would have helped maximize the rest of the team’s talent.

The Sixers’ playoff run got off to a solid start but was then dealt a serious blow: Embiid has apparently torn some meniscus ligaments and had to sit out Game 5 of their win over the Wizards. That contest saw Simmons, Harris, and Seth Curry carry the load to eliminate Washington — but Philly’s title hopes come way down if Embiid can’t play, or is now limited due to injury. It’s unfortunate because, Lowry or not, the Sixers had a good chance to go all the way. And even with Lowry on the team (traded, theoretically, for bench parts and youngster Tyrese Maxey), the Sixers would be hard-pressed to get to the Finals, let alone win, without Embiid at the peak of his powers.

Final Verdict: Trading for Lowry would have made the Sixers the East-favourites — if not the title-favourites — in my book. Any serious absence from Embiid, however, negates any advantage Lowry could have brought to the team. Just some really tough luck there for Philly. I’m not disappointed in them for not trading for Lowry. The Sixers felt they had a championship-calibre team, and in spirit, they were correct — barring injury. Now we’ll see what comes of Embiid for the rest of the post-season as the Sixers gear up to take on the Hawks in the second round.

Los Angeles Clippers

Let me start this entry off by stating the obvious: the Clippers didn’t really have the ability to make a trade with the Raptors for Lowry. Their salary sheet is wildly top-heavy, and the players who could have been included in a deal to make the math work are also players the Clippers need to actually win games. Say what you will of, say, late-period Marcus Morris, he gives LA some flexibility in the frontcourt and trading him for Lowry to stack with the rest of their non-functioning guards would have thrown their roster way out of balance.

Instead, to their credit, the Clippers did the sensible thing: they traded Lou Williams, an offensively-minded guard (with zero defensive utility) for Rajon Rondo to provide themselves with a little more play-making and organizational ability. Rondo isn’t the defender he once was, and he doesn’t quite fill the stat sheet like his heyday in Boston, but he can still get a team to follow his commands and put players in the right position to succeed. With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers only need a bit of that help — but with their only other guards being Patrick Beverley and Reggie Jackson, that helps goes a long way.

Verdict: Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite helped enough. Despite that aforementioned two-headed firepower, the Clippers are still down 3-2 in the first round to the Mavericks (with Rondo going 0-for-6 in 20 minutes in Game 5) thanks to Luka Doncic’s overall mastery. To deal with Doncic’s pick-and-roll powers, the Clips have gone small, which seemed like a good idea until Dallas went extra big (starting Kristaps Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic) and won anyway.

Does Lowry help the Clippers here? The obvious answer is yes — he’s better than Rondo, Jackson, and Beverley, and he could have maybe juiced the weird vibes around this team enough to make it a bit easier to win the series. But this is the bed the Clippers made, and I’m fine with Lowry standing aside while this team goes to sleep.

Miami Heat

Maybe it was just Bubble luck, or maybe the Miami’s vanquisher, the Milwaukee Bucks, got over whatever weird mental hump dogged them last year — or, sure, maybe they really are just extremely exhausted after a very short break and super-condensed season — but the Heat sure did not look good in this year’s playoffs. Some of this is indeed due to bad luck: the Heat decided to gamble on a move for Victor Oladipo, who, if healthy, surely would have helped them immensely. Except, Oladipo almost immediately got injured, dooming the Heat to a first-round exit (and a sweep at that).

Lowry for sure would have helped the Heat here and it would have perhaps only cost them Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. Now, hold on, I know what you’re thinking: why would the Heat trade their two young guns for an ageing Lowry? Well, both those guys were mostly invisible in the playoffs this time around — and quite frankly Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic (the team’s leading scorer in these playoffs) are not getting any younger. While Bam Adebayo is, of course, the cornerstone of the Heat’s present and future at this point, there aren’t that many years left to put together with the group they have now. And for my money, the risk of, say, Herro — who the Heat reportedly refused to deal — blowing up into an All-Star-calibre player seems low. A nice to have, sure, but nicer than a championship? No.

Verdict: Admittedly, this is all academic. The Heat of 2020-21 would not have been title favourites even if they had traded for Lowry. The Bucks did look immensely better than them (and Lowry would not have helped much there) and it feels like it would have been extremely tough for them to best a loaded Brooklyn Nets team regardless. Still, it is funny to laugh at the idea that Pat Riley just had to hold onto Herro (a scorer who averaged 9.3 points in the first round). While the clock ticks on Butler, Dragic, Trevor Ariza and the rest — was he really that valuable?

Los Angeles Lakers

Speaking of hanging onto a young player at the expense of all else, have you heard the Talen Horton-Tucker Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs last night by the Phoenix Suns? It’s true — they lost 4-2, with THT appearing in four of those games and averaging a whopping 6.5 points. Do we think Lowry would have helped the poor Lakers out of the first round of the 2021 playoffs? Yes, of course!

I mention all this because the Lakers apparently would not include Horton-Tucker in any deal for Lowry. Now, who knows how accurate any of those rumours are, but it seems insane to consider a team led by LeBron James not doing everything in its power to acquire players to win titles right away. I appreciate that THT, at 20 years old, may one day become a good player, but James is 36 with an ungodly number of basketball miles on his body. Coupled with the made-of-glass Anthony Davis, the Lakers only have so many more kicks at the can for NBA titles — even acknowledging LeBron’s superhuman longevity. That the team went out instead and signed Andre Drummond while Marc Gasol stood patiently by, just compounded this mistake. This was a rickety team both mentally and physically, and it cost them.

This is no slight to the Suns who are a legit contending team this year: Deandre Ayton came into his own, Devin Booker blew up for 47 points in his first elimination game, Jae Crowder did his 3-and-D thing, and even Chris Paul, jarred recently again by injury, has been around to steer the ship. Maybe the Lakers making a move for Lowry wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. But unlike the other teams on this list, I’m not sure what else the Lakers can do now other than hope that maybe next year Davis stays healthy throughout, and LeBron has yet another superhuman season in the tank. Surely all eyes can’t now turn to Horton-Tucker, right?

Verdict: It’s fun to laugh at the Lakers’ expense, I think we can all admit that. Their collective delusional hubris, from both fans and front office — e.g. comparing Drummond to the signing of other Lakers big man legends — is breathtaking to behold at times. And also, they’ve won enough — both recently and historically — making it not impossible to take some modicum of joy from their misfortune.

In any case, to recap: Lowry stayed in Toronto, LA got to keep the untouchable Talen Horton-Tucker, and LeBron lost in the first round for the first time in his career. It’s possible some of these things are related.