Kyle Lowry, the three-time All-Star point guard at the peak of his powers, is going to be a free agent this summer.
That, in itself, is not news — few, if any, expected Lowry to opt into the final year of his contract with the Toronto Raptors. Not when there’s $200 million to be made by declining his option.
But the word that Lowry will seriously consider moving away from Toronto and into the Western Conference — as posited by Marc Stein on Sunday night— is news.
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The likelihood is that this scuttlebutt is the byproduct of Lowry’s agent doing his job. Re-signing Lowry to a five-year, $200-plus million deal won't be an easy decision for the Raptors — Lowry is 31 years old, and Toronto would then be totally committed to a core of him, DeMar DeRozan, and whomever it can keep playing around them. Would the Raptors keep Serge Ibaka? Is that Toronto’s best path?
Probably, but general manager Masai Ujiri is going to have to think long and hard about giving Lowry that fifth year. No one else can offer Lowry that extra season on the free-agent market, but do the Raptors really want to be paying a 36-year-old point guard who ended this season injured $40 million-plus for half a decade?
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By hinting that Lowry might leave Toronto, the point guard's agent is creating a marketplace and forcing Ujiri and the Raptors to offer his client the full max — five years, $204 million — lest Toronto lose its best player for being cheap.
But just because the Raptors are likely to go all-in on Lowry doesn’t mean that Lowry has to accept Toronto’s offer.
And if they don't go all-in, then he should be as good as gone.
Because in either case, if Lowry is going to truly test the free-agent market, he should seriously consider heading to San Antonio.
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Lowry has stated unequivocally that he’s looking for one thing: a ring. One has to wonder whether it’ll be possible for him to win one in Toronto. How long can LeBron’s peak last? He doesn’t look to be anywhere near a decline — especially not when he can go through the motions for an entire regular season to conserve energy for the playoffs without consequence.
Remember, James is one year older than Lowry. To presume that LeBron is mortal and will eventually decline is one thing, but to presume that he will decline at the same rate as Lowry, creating a one or two-year window for the Raptors to overtake the Cavs in the Eastern Conference is a massive logical leap.
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And that’s to presume that the Eastern Conference is really a two-team race. It isn’t now and it won’t be in the future.
What about the Bucks, who gave the Raptors all they could handle in the first round and will only get better as Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to improve? Will Toronto be able to hold them off in the years to come? How about the Celtics, who have been biding their time, hoarding assets, waiting for LeBron to slip up just a bit? They might have been better than the Raptors this season, so what will happen when they start cashing in those chips in the future?
Even the 76ers have, arguably (of course), a brighter future — they did look like a solid team when Joel Embiid played this year, and they could add two impact players to their roster of Processes this summer via the draft.
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Are the Raptors “knocking on the door” as coach Dwane Casey suggested after his team was smoked out of the playoffs by the Cavs in four lopsided games? It’s hard to make that case.
The Spurs, however, are always knocking on the door, and Lowry could be the piece they are desperately missing.
San Antonio would have to move some money around — any acquisition of a top-flight point guard, whether that be Lowry or fellow free agent Chris Paul (for whom this piece could also be written about, nearly to a T), would require Pau Gasol to decline his player option, Tony Parker’s contract to be stretched and probably a trade or two as well.
But it’s worth it for the Spurs — Parker’s best basketball is far behind him, and a core of Lowry, LaMarcus Aldridge, and arguably the best non-LeBron player in the world, Kawhi Leonard (who is 25 years old), is going to compete for titles, even in a tough Western Conference with the Warriors, Clippers, Jazz, Rockets, and perhaps Timberwolves in years to come.
And for Lowry, that Spurs team certainly has a better chance of beating the Cavaliers should the two teams meet in the Finals. The reasoning is simple: You want to be on Kawhi’s team.
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The Spurs can't offer Lowry as much money as Toronto — no other team can — but there’s roughly a $1 million difference in annual taxation between Toronto and Texas, favoring the Spurs.
That said, it’s important to remember that Lowry has never made more than $12 million a season and this is going to be his last huge contract. That extra year of guaranteed money is huge.
If Toronto doesn’t offer it, there’s not much reason for Lowry to stay — not when there are greener pastures and similar money in San Antonio.
Even if the Raptors extend the full max, Lowry might not care. It's about titles — right?
So is it about the ring or the cash? We’ll find out in July.
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