In the summer of 2014, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, had one of the biggest coups of his career when he beat back Pat Riley and the Miami Heat and convinced Kyle Lowry to accept a salary of $12 million per year to stay in Toronto. That’s chump change right about now, particularly with the cap going up exponentially this summer and max contracs hitting the $30 million mark. With the year Lowry is having, if he was a free agent this summer, he’d definitely be worth a $90 million dollar deal, or more. Lowry is the hearteat of the Raptors; he is their glue. But, Lowry is vastly underpaid and that won’t change for another eighteen months when Lowry will be 31, in the summer of 2017. So, the Raptors have one more year to fend off the big Kyle Lowry payday. He is due. Lowry did the Raptors a favor. He signed for less.
The question looms over the Raptors once July 1st hits. Will DeMar DeRozan do the Raptors a favor? Will he sign for less? Is Masai Ujiri magical, dipping in the same river twice?
DeRozan is having an incredible year. He’s had 12 games where he’s scored 30+ points. He has had 20 games where he has gone to the free throw line more than 10 times. His 23.5 points is a career high. His 4.0 assists ties a career high. His 84.5% from the line is a career high. His free throw attempts are a career high. He is not a skilled 3-point shooter but has his highest percentage from distance this year. His 21.5 PER is the highest its every been. He was an All-Star.
DeMar DeRozan makes 45% of his contested shots. He leads the league in drives to the rim. In the Kobe Bryant retirement is coming soon year, DeRozan has effectively taken the mantle as the shooting guard who is an iso player, beating back the current myth that the iso game is dead. Simply put, DeMar DeRozan is a free agent prize.
Ujiri knows that. But so do the Lakers, Knicks, Pacers, Thunder. They all have a place for DeRozan. The Lakers are DeRozan’s hometown team and have the most money this summer. The Thunder, if they lose Durant, will have money to spend and how does a Westbrook/DeRozan backcourt look to you? DeRozan with Paul George would make a nice combo. The Knicks don’t have a young All-Star to pair DeRozan with but they always sell New York as a place to be. Not to undercut the Raptors, but DeRozan will come around at the end. The Raptors will probably be the last interview for DeRozan, similar to a couple of years ago when Carmelo made the Knicks his last interview.
The danger in that for the Raptors is that, more than likely, the Lakers will set the price. They have the most money and want DeRozan. So they can overypay and force the Raptors to match. Will they? A $30 million dollar payday means the Raptors are nearing $100 million and the luxury tax with Kyle Lowry coming up the next year, thrusting them deep into the repeater tax. It is a question the front office is going to have to answer before they meet with DeRozan. Are they willing to let him walk if the price is too high?
On the face of it, DeRozan staying in Toronto is a no-brainer. He and Lowry are a dynamic combo who have great chemistry on and off the court. While the Raptors aren’t favorites to knock off the Cavs, they are the second best team in the conference, albeit in need of athletic explosion in their front court. Why would DeRozan leave that?
Money. L.A. Home. New York. The Kobe replacement. The Kevin Durant replacement. So many variables factor in, not to mention the weight of family and friends.
What Ujiri did with Kyle Lowry really was a miracle. Pulling the same with DeRozan, in a year when the money explodes, would be extraordinary and nearly impossible. Except, he did impossible in 2014.
photo via llananba