Kyle Lowry remains a Raptor as Toronto needs him more than ever

The Toronto Raptors weren’t supposed to start winning, DeMar DeRozan wasn’t supposed to blossom into an All-Star and Masai Ujiri certainly wasn’t supposed to trade him. In actuality, former Raptors president Bryan Colangelo was supposed to snag 38-year-old Steve Nash, giving a win-starved fanbase a chance to make some memories en route to a few postseason exits.

But the Los Angeles Lakers landed Nash at the last minute and Colangelo got replaced by Ujiri, but not before pivoting his attention to the greatest consolation prize in franchise history, the greatest player in franchise history: Kyle Lowry, a mercurial 26-year-old point guard in Houston.

Maybe that’s why, after the Raptors beat the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday in what many thought would be Lowry’s final game in the uniform, he didn’t seem too concerned about what would happen the next day.

“Whatever will be will be,” said Lowry. “That’s the truth. Everything happens for a reason. You can’t control everything. In some situations, you can, but everything … every decision that has happened that I’ve had a choice in doing has worked out for me very well. Everything will be fine at the end of the day. Everything will be fine no matter what happens.”

This is some hard-won zen, the product of a career that has been defined by wrong turns going right. Why worry about tomorrow when you’ve always been wrong about what ends up happening?

Lowry was right not to make predictions. As the deadline crept closer, Lowry’s suitors turned to alternate solutions: the Philadelphia 76ers traded for George Hill, the Clippers traded for Rajon Rondo, the Miami Heat got Victor Oladipo, and the Los Angeles Lakers stood pat.

Lowry remains a Toronto Raptor, mostly because no one needed him more than the Raptors. Or at least no one thought they did. “For Kyle, we’re extremely, extremely biased, because of what does and what he stands for,” Ujiri said after the deadline. “I talked to some people [who] say we know Kyle from how-many-years-ago. But Kyle has grown in our organization. He’s such an unbelievable person, player. … When you look at what’s out there, It’s difficult sometimes even for those teams to see this value.”

“I hope I’m pardoned that if I valued him too much,” Ujiri said later in the press conference. “But hey, that’s what I believed in today.

The guy from how-many-years-ago is no joke, by the way. He played hard, always played hard. But his demeanor was surly, almost ostentatiously disengaged, his eyes rolling at every question. On the court, he’d never stop talking. On the bench, he’d often nestle into the corner, putting a towel over his head. He looked like he couldn’t be reached.

“I was literally trying to figure out who I was,” said Lowry. “Now it’s like, how do I help everyone else? I’m not looking to just help me. I’m good. I wanna help everybody else. That’s the maturation of what I feel like I’ve become. I wanna help the world, and I can help the world because I’ve been through so many experiences: the good, the bad, the highs and lows, and I know I can help anybody.”

Lowry sees the spoils of his mentorship in every charge taken by Fred VanVleet, the point guard he turned into a spitting image of himself, in the contracts doled out to Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, who was traded to Portland on Thursday.

“It makes me feel amazingly really happy,” Lowry said. “These guys all got paid because they’ve become men, they’ve become better basketball players and they’re growing. For me to be a part of that is one of the best feelings in the world, because these guys will be able to provide for their families forever, they’re creating generational wealth, they’ll continue to get paid to do something they love. That’s important to me.”

Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors looks on during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Amalie Arena on March 24, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Kyle Lowry is still a Raptor. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Reading these words in the aftermath of the deadline, it’s easy to envision the dawn of a new era for Lowry, another opportunity for Raptors fans to continue this love affair, maybe even for long enough that they’ll get to watch him play in Toronto.

Displaced in Tampa Bay — Ujiri called every game this season a “road game — losing nine of their last 10 games after losing half the roster to COVID-19-related reasons, one can argue the Raptors have never needed Lowry more.

“He’s always the one that shepherds us through these moments, to be honest,” says Ujiri. “He’s just been the strength and backbone of this team. We have a lot of young players and his leadership along with Fred [VanVleet], along with the other guys, they wheel us through. There have been tough times when we could have given up, collapsed, there have been times when it’s not been very pleasant, to be honest. Having guys locked in protocol and not being around and uncertainty, even at times when they should have been relaxing during All-Star, guys were stuck in rooms. This is not pleasant at all. It’s a hard time for them.”

On Wednesday, Lowry — who has clashed with a coach or two — was asked what advice he would give Pascal Siakam after his locker-room blowup at coach Nurse.

“As you get more mature,” said Lowry, “you learn how to channel your energy and communicate better. Pascal, he’s still a young man, he’s still living his life, going through ups and downs and becoming this guy, an All-Star, a max player, to also becoming more of a man, a person who takes care of his family. … The way you handle it is, you just keep growing. Sometimes, you make mistakes. And the biggest thing is you learn from whatever happens. I’ve learned so many different things in my life.”

Lowry, now 35, is old enough to see his mistakes in others, to see just how human it is to feel overwhelmed and unappreciated and fall prey to the sense that the world is set up against you. The best redemption life offers is to allow people to learn from their flaws and help others through the same mistakes they made.

For nine years, the Raptors have challenged Lowry to peel back the onion a little more each day, so he can become the person they need him to be. He’s risen to the challenge every time, and he’s not done yet. The deadline happened to fall on his birthday, so the night before, reporters wished him luck on the golf course.

But he was in the gym when he found out he’d be a Raptor for at least a few more months. “The story,” according to Lowry, “is not complete.”

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