I love the way Kyle Lowry plays basketball. I love the way he drives fearlessly to the basket, his ability to distribute the basketball, his eagerness to take a charge no matter the behemoth bearing down on him, his streaky and sometimes impossible three point shooting, and his ability to play through pain. That is also, in part, why I wouldn’t re-sign him, and why I see his decision to forego his option year to test free agency as an actual gift for the Toronto Raptors.
Let’s be honest. As long as LeBron James is around, the Toronto Raptors are not going to get to the NBA final. We’ve seen them play the Cavaliers when Lowry was healthy (loss in six games) and when he was hurt (swept in four). Lowry is an exciting, dedicated and gifted player. He is also injury prone and at 31 years of age, entering a part of his career where he will no longer be able to fling his body to and fro without consequence.
Now that Raptors’ fans have experienced a conference final, anything less is going to seem disappointing, and even a loss in the finals will seem like failure. So, why would you handcuff your ability to spend on players by shelling out 200 million dollars to remain the Cav’s door mat?
Let’s be clear. I am not suggesting that foregoing Lowry and signing other players is going to lead to a championship. It’s not. However, it will allow young players like Delon Wright and Fred Van Vleet to develop, and it will allow the Raptors to bring in some other players of interest. The team may not be as good without Lowry, but it will not be financially paralyzed because they are crushed under a bad contract. When they are ready to rebuild, they will be able to do so more quickly without the Lowry contract.
Many Toronto fans will accuse me of being willing to doom the team to mediocrity. I counter that they are willing to condemn the team to good but sub-elite status that will end up slowing a potential rebuild significantly.
And honestly, do you really want to have to witness the spectacle of the glum faced Lowry and DeRozan at the press conference where the Raps are eliminated talking about having to get better? How long can we be expected to be subject to Lowry’s looks of utter shock at missed calls or his endless, running on court monologues on the finer points of officiating? And why should we put up with Lowry’s aggressive dismissal of questions about putting his all-star appearance over his health?
Let’s not forget that the team actually went on quite a run while Lowry was injured and climbed back into the top tier of the Eastern Conference. It would be interesting to see what a Cory Joseph/Delon Wright/Fred Van Vleet point guard trio would produce. The point is how badly do you want a second or third place team? And yeah, I know, that no matter where Lowry ends up, he will probably rip us apart when he faces us. But that still doesn’t justify 200 million dollars over five years. Wouldn’t you rather have great memories of Lowry’s time here than see him become a shadow of his former self and watch his abilities diminish and his injuries mount?
Call me a realist, but I don’t see the Raptors winning an NBA title in the next decade. But keeping financial flexibility gives them an outside chance of achieving elite status one day. Overpaying Lowry keeps the Raptors just good enough to keep getting pasted by LeBron and pals. LeBron’s athleticism and determination means the Raptors have to play the long game. The long game means not getting sentimental when it comes to re-signing popular players. The truth hurts.