The Toronto Raptors are taking a calculated gamble, one that seems perched about partway between “trade an endlessly-chucking Rudy Gay for a series of expiring contracts” and “draft a kid nobody has heard of with the 20th pick in the draft.” The team is rewarding point guard Kyle Lowry, who has yet to make an All-Star team, with a four-year, $48 million extension. The agreement was first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.
Lowry should have made the Eastern All-Stars last season, his best NBA campaign thus far. He coupled dogged play on both sides of the ball with a willingness to listen and not break the plays sent out by coach Dwane Casey, who was also working in the final year of his contract. The worst case scenario is that Lowry will relent to his old ways now that he’s finally cashed in on a major payday, and that the leader of the sometimes whisper-rich Raptors will cut off the team’s ascension.
The best case scenario? The Raptors are paying a borderline All-Star guard through his prime, someone they can rely on to act as the face of the franchise while pushing the team’s younger players into bigger and better things.
Lowry was fantastic in 2013-14, notching career highs in points (17.9) and assists (7.4) and three-point percentage, at 38 percent. In a league that has just about outlawed point guards from playing above average defense, Kyle still managed to remain a plus defender and he remains a standout rebounder at his position.
More importantly, after clashing with coaches in both of his previous NBA stops, Lowry managed to cede to coach Casey’s wishes while still working his bulldog game on either end. Casey was a lame duck coach working under a new general manager in Masai Ujiri that didn’t hire him, and if NBA tradition held the players would have walked all over him in what was supposed to be a tanking routine for Toronto. Instead, both coach (who received a contract extension following 2013-14) and player (who was once thought of trade bait as Ujiri searched for a future first-rounder) earned their keep.
And Lowry earned his money. A lot of money. This summer is a players’ market.
Kyle made “only” $6.2 last season, far below what his production would have usually earned, but right in line with what a player with middling stats and a surly attitude was worth entering 2013-14. The Raptors, in part, are paying extra for that fantastic near-All-Star turn, but considering the hefty amount of NBA teams with available cap room that will likely be left wanting when players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Lance Stephenson stay with their respective teams, Lowry had leverage. And Ujiri didn’t even have to give Lowry a fifth year – though the point guard’s fourth year of the contract will provide Lowry with an Early Termination Option. Past his prime and set to turn 32 partway through the 2017-18 season, Lowry will probably opt into the final year of his deal with Toronto.
Unless something goes terribly wrong, which is not out of the question. The Raptors are a nice team, and despite DeMar DeRozan’s presence on the All-Star team, Lowry’s work in his prime, and the growth of center Jonas Valanciunas, the roster is still without a star. It is the reason Ujiri took a risk on Bruno Cabobclo in last month’s draft – the Raptors need someone to put them over the top, even coming off of an Atlantic Division championship.
In the interim, the Raps will rely on internal development, the addition of a potentially resurgent Lou Williams, and Lowry’s guidance to help the team improve. Toronto’s front office is betting that the 2013-14 version of Kyle Lowry is the one they’ll be employing for the next three or four years, and not the version that angrily suited up for various outfits in the previous seven seasons. We’re hoping the Raptors are correct, in their estimation.
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