A day after it was rumored by “sources” that Kyle Lowry had zero interest in returning to Toronto, Lowry set the record straight. Don’t believe anything until you hear it from him. Masai Ujiri basically followed that up with “Lowry told me he wants to be here.” Ujiri, the Raptors GM, hopes so, and even if he was speaking optimistically, it is better to try to speak it into existence ala LaVar Ball. Because the truth that is unescapeable is this summer the Raptors have everything at stake.
Kyle Lowry, the hard nosed guard from Philly, may not be the Raptors best player. But he is their most important. The Raptors are dependent on Lowry and without him they are incomplete, not deep enough or skilled enough or tough enough or talented enough. Without Lowry, they are an 8th seed or in the lottery. Without Lowry, they are in trouble. This is a big sell for Masai Ujiri. He has to wrap Lowry up. He has to close the deal.
But if he doesn’t, if Lowry walks, there are options- just not ones the Raptors want. There is Derrick Rose who wants a lot of money. There is Jeff Teague who is a nice enough fill in but not Lowry energy. As options, they are way down the Plan B list.
Regardless of what Lowry says, nothing is a sure thing. No one expected Kevin Durant to bolt a team that had a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. He did. Lowry has said what he wants more than anything is to win a ring. It’s hard to say how fatigued Lowry is playing in the East and going up against LeBron James.
Can Lowry say no to Gregg Popovich who is shepherding a team that can get to the Finals? Can he say no to Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau? What about replacing Chris Paul? Can Lowry turn down DeMar DeRozan asking him to come back?
Kyle Lowry has transferred his own identiy onto the Raptors. Toronto’s achievement is, in part, because of Lowry’s skill and the combo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They are everything to Toronto. Even if you slide in Teague or Rose, the chemistry is not there, not in the beginning.
As great as Lowry has been for the Raptors ascendancy as a playoff staple, his weakness has been his playoff performances and no one can really explain why. Is he putting too much pressure on himself? Lowry has never ducked the issue of his underachievement in the playoffs. He has spoken of resurrections openly, unembarrassed, as if the hoax he has worked out has left his blood. It is part of the Lowry book, a chapter, like all the other chapters before it, the good and the bad, the curious and the expected.
In the 2016-17 season, Lowry posted career numbers. Most minutes. Most field goals made. Highest field goal percentage. First time ever as a member of the exclusive 40% 3-point shooting club. Highest free throw percentage. Most rebounds. Most assists. Most points. Highest offensive rating.
In the playoffs, it was the normal Kyle Lowry drop off. 15.8 points not 22.4 points. 5.9 assists not 7.0 assists. 114 offensive rating, not 123 offensive rating. His 40% three point shooting dropped to 34%. Credit some of it to defenses and schemes and teams having 10 days to figure it out. But because this is the Lowry postseason dark side, Lowry gets the blame.
But it doesn’t change the facts or the big picture and why the Raptors are desperate to hold on to him. DeMar DeRozan is the better talent. But Lowry is the key. He is the point guard and coach on the floor, a gritty with the ball persona who dominates his position and guides the Raptors to heights far beyond what their history expects. He is Philly through and through. Until he falls apart. The lazy analysis is that Lowry sucks in the playoffs. He’s not built for it. He’s mentally weak. But is it true?
Gregg Popvich and Tom Thibodeau don’t think so. They think Lowry has never had the full compliment of personnel, a team of shooters Lowry can dish to. He’s never played with a top-10 talent and that is why his results are what they are. But things are changing.
Kyle Lowry is 31 years old. This is probably his last contract. He wants a championship parade.
The Raptors won 51 games but were last in the league in assists. Iso offenses don’t win in the postseason despite delivering victories in the regular season. The Raptors were an awful rebounding team. No rebounds, no rings, as the saying goes. So if Ujiri wants Lowry back, he better fix his team. And fast.
photo via llananba