Lowry, 26, is a favourite of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and only became available because he bristled with the way he was handled by Rockets coach Kevin McHale.
His contract has two years remaining at $5.75 and $6.21 million U.S., making Lowry one of the best bargains in the NBA.
An elite defender and rebounder for his position, Lowry also averaged 14.3 points and 6.6 assists last season. He gets to the line often thanks to his aggressive approach (and converted 86.4% of his free throw attempts last season) and also has worked to become a strong three-point shooter (37.4% and 37.6% the past two seasons).
In 38 starts in 2011-12, Lowry averaged 15.9 points, 7.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
The guard puts constant pressure on opponents at both ends.
He is also close with Raptors scout Alvin Williams, another Philadelphia native who played college ball at Villanova.
Lowry will become the leader of the club both on and off the court. His fiery personality and dogged competitiveness makes him the obvious choice to be the guy Casey hands the reins to.
It’s unclear what the move means for either incumbent starter Jose Calderon or backup Jerryd Bayless.
The Raptors don’t necessarily have to use the amnesty clause on Calderon to get the money to assume Lowry’s contract. There are other options and the league’s final cap and tax numbers won’t be known until July 10, and they would be a contrasting duo at starter and backup. Bayless has a one-year qualifying offer of just over $4 million from Toronto as a restricted free agent but has yet to attract any public interest on the free-agent market.
But barring any other trades, the Raptors will have to free up some cap space via amnesty if they are going to continue their pursuit of a small forward.
Look, we’ll never know how serious he was about listening to Toronto’s pitch (his agent, Bill Duffy said after the fact he’d have been okay with either Toronto or New York but I’m skeptical) but doesn’t it really matter?
The Raptors saw what they thought they wanted and went after it. You can’t blame GM Bryan Colangelo for trying, can you? Guy gave it his best shot, loaded an offer financially, made it all glitzy and sweet and was told no. What’s wrong with that? That’s his fault?
It’s not a repudiation of Canada — that’s so trite it should be dismissed out of hand; it’s not a repudiation of Toronto — 100 NBA free agents given the choice of the Lakers team and this Raptors team would take this Lakers team 100 times; if anything, it’s a repudiation of a team that’s been out of the playoffs for four years and needs to get closer to respectability before it can make a bold move like this.
No, you can’t blame a GM for trying; perhaps the only thing you can do is think, ‘okay, what’s next?’ And seeing how little has worked out of late, that’s fair comment. The pressure’s on him to do something to make the team better, a big trade most likely since the free agent market’s really limited right now but that’s to discuss here later today because I have to have something to do with my day.
His friends among the chattering classes will challenge suggestions that Captain Canada needs to be busted down a rank for turning his back on the Raptors, and it’s true that Nash was within his rights in making the choice. Still, you’d think he’d be above the tired “I just wanna be close to the kids” line. Spare us.
Stay with the Suns, then. Or buy some first-class plane tickets or share of an executive jet. You’re on the road half the season, for pete’s sake. Better yet, if geography was an issue, why not tell the Raptors immediately instead of waiting four days? Was some seismic event going to shift Toronto closer to Phoenix during that time? And what about the recent interview where he said: “The truth is, I’m a bit old school. For me, it would be hard to put on a Lakers jersey.”
Nash is old school. He played the contractual bait and switch like a virtuoso. He knew the Raptors had no choice but to court him, and used that to establish the parameters for any serious suitor. Nobody was going to match the $36-million (U.S.) guaranteed by the Raptors. But somebody would, as it turned out, match the three-year guarantee.
Meanwhile, Brand Nash is taken care of in Canada through his charity work as general manager of Basketball Canada. This wasn’t LeBron James and The Decision, but the ramifications for the Raptors will cut just as deep. At least Nash didn’t hire Jim Gray to be his lapdog. My guess is Gray was probably busy.
Lowry will not be a licence for MLSE to print money, as the acquisition of Nash would have been. However, he has far more upside than Nash in that he is just 26 and is being paid less than US$12-million over the next two seasons. It would have required almost 50% more annually, plus another season to obtain Nash, although the Raptors would have been able to keep the draft pick. Depending on ensuing moves, the Raptors could have significant financial flexibility starting next season.
Nash would have been a stopgap, albeit an attractive one for reasons impacting profitability and relevance. Lowry could be a long-term solution. Lowry had a very nice year last season, averaging 14.3 points and 6.6 assists per game. Before the all-star break, he averaged 15.6 points and 7.6 assists per game, making him a borderline all-star. His advanced statistics suggest he is one of the 10 to 12 best point guards in the league. However, he missed 15 games in March and April because of a bacterial infection and eventually lost his starting spot to Goran Dragic. Dragic signed with Phoenix on late Wednesday to replace Nash there.
2. NBA players don’t like Toronto: In fact, Toronto is frequently mentioned as one of the favourite cities of many NBA players. For one, Milwaukee Bucks point guard and Los Angeles native Brandon Jennings: “I just love the city of Toronto, man. It’s a great city. The people are great here. There’s always something to do. It’s a great city.” Meanwhile, Raptors restricted free agent Jerryd Bayless is looking into buying a home in Toronto, regardless of whether he comes back to the Raptors next year: “Some of my closest friends are here. They’ve shown me, and I’ve fallen in love with it. I want to make it my home.”
3. The Raptors will always be as unattractive as they are now: The Bulls have been the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference for two years. How did they do it? Not by making a bunch of free agent signings and spending themselves into contention. In 2007, the Bulls landed Joakim Noah in the draft. In 2008, the Bulls landed Derrick Rose with the first-overall pick in the draft. In the 2009 playoffs, the Bulls pushed the Celtics to seven games in an entertaining first-round series. In 2010, the Bulls then hired Tom Thibodeau to coach and had enough in place to get Carlos Boozer (who has been a disappointment, by the way) to come to Chicago. In that order, that is how they became good. After Michael Jordan retired, the Bulls struck out repeatedly in free agency, missing out on Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, among others. Does anyone want to argue that Chicago is not a desirable city? There are only a handful of teams that will consistently be able to draw free agents: the Lakers, Knicks and Heat. Recently, the Nets and Clippers were able to encourage star players to force trades to them (and Brooklyn has still failed to land Dwight Howard). In both cases, they already had one star in place (Deron Williams, Blake Griffin). Everybody else has to do it the same way: by drafting well, trading well, hiring good coaches and getting really lucky. The Raptors have never been good enough for long enough (one playoff series victory in 17 years) to jump to the above conclusion. Saying that they have is a self-pitying lie.
While the Raptors committed salaries for next season place them approximately $17 million under the salary cap, the team has salary cap holds in excess of that space. However, by renouncing their rights to all of their free agents except Jerryd Bayless and Sonny Weems, the Raptors can complete the trade for Lowry now. If Bayless is re-signed at a number close to his qualifying offer before the offer sheet to Fields is issued, the Raptors should not have to complete any further moves to accommodate both transactions.
The acquisition of Lowry has bigger implications than just those related to the salary cap.
The Raptors’ starting point guard for the past five seasons, Jose Calderon has one year remaining at $10.56 million on his current contract. The 30-year-old Spanish guard makes no secret of the fact he likes living in Toronto during the season and last year the veteran made a solid impression on new Head coach Dwane Casey. A true pass-first guard, Calderon owns the Raptors record of 3,487 career assists and has been a terrific three-pointer shooter and outstanding from the free throw line, leading the NBA in 2008-2009 at 98.1 percent. Unfortunately, injuries held Calderon to 68 games played in the three seasons before the lockout and a lack of lateral foot speed and athleticism has held him back at the defensive end. It is well known that Colangelo has been trying to trade Calderon for the past two years.
And now we have the Raptors, fresh off vaulting from league-worst to league-average in points allowed per possession on defense after just one season beneath defensive whiz Dwane Casey. Lowry’s defense took a step back last season, but when healthy and engaged, he’s in the conversation for the league’s best point guard defender. Jonas Valanciunas, last year’s No. 5 pick, will be around this season to beef up a skinny big man rotation. The Raptors are stuck overpaying Landry Fields, but don’t be shocked if he begins the season as Toronto’s starting small forward. That’s a position at which his lack of elite speed shouldn’t be quite as damaging as it would be at shooting guard.
This Toronto team is going to defend. It won’t do it at a top-five level until one of the bigs emerges as a real difference-maker, but it’ll work hard, scheme well and make life difficult for opponents every night. The Raptors’ offense was a disaster last season, falling all the way to 29th in points per possession. But it actually scored at an average rate when Andrea Bargnani was on the floor, and at the start the year (before a calf injury), Bargnani was more active defensively and on the glass for Casey than he had been for Jay Triano. The Raptors don’t have to amnesty Jose Calderon to acquire both Fields and Lowry, and Calderon will serve as perhaps the league’s best backup point guard — and a tasty trade chip on an expiring contract.
Not using amnesty on Calderon is big, since the Raptors would still have it to potentially use on Amir Johnson or Linas Kleiza next summer. Slicing either player off the Raptors’ cap sheet would get Toronto very close to max-level cap room, especially if the cap level increases a notch as expected. Even if the franchise decide to keep both, the Raptors could still come in a hair under the cap, even factoring in relatively pricey cap holds for DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson, both of whom will enter restricted free agency a year from now. Those charges take Toronto close enough to the cap that it would be easy for it go over and pursue a strategy using the full mid-level exception.
In other words: The Raptors are super-flexible, even after adding Lowry’s salary — more flexible than they would have been paying double for Nash. They’ll regret the Fields contract, and they’ll miss that lottery pick, even if it has some protections in both directions. (The protections are complex, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. For instance: The Rockets get the pick next year if it falls between No. 4 and No. 14, but the Raptors keep it otherwise. In 2014, the Rockets get the pick if it falls between No. 3 and No. 14).
Lowry will fit in great in Toronto. Head coach Dwane Casey, the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Mavericks’ championship team in 2010, greatly revamped the Raptors defense last season, and will greatly enjoy finding ways to use Lowry to harass the opposing point guard.
For Houston, on the other hand, this trade marks what is looking more and more like a slow death march towards irrelevancy and the firing of Daryl Morey and his asset accumulation plan. Until that day, Houston fans will have to root for more future first round picks and continue to cross their fingers that one day, someday soon, a Disgruntled Superstar will demand a trade and the GM assigned the task of trading Disgruntled Superstar will take a look at the Rockets roster and think to himself, “Wow, a bunch of assets I really could use to jumpstart the rebuilding.”
If the Raptors had been battling the Bobcats or the Timberwolves they would have had a good chance at getting Nash, but to be a Laker and take one last shot at a crown, well that’s just too much for an aging hall of famer to pass up. Gary Payton couldn’t pass it up and neither could Karl Malone—though neither experienced a championship and retired without having won a title. Nash has long said that winning a title would not be the sole purpose for his choice and he was true to his words—though he does get to shoot for that title. The man has a big cake and gets to eat it too.
So what of the Raptors in the aftermath of their aggressive play? To assume that the organization, after one complete season of doing nothing other than planning for this moment, had only Plan A up its sleeve would be to assume that the inmates are running the asylum. Would they really have offered Landry Fields such an exorbitant contract if they were not chasing Nash? Of course not. But the possibility had to exist that they would not sign Nash—it was more of a probability when competing with the big boys. So the Raptors had to know they might get stuck with the Fields’ contract and without Nash. They had to know there was a great possibility of not only that happening but that the Knicks would not match and suddenly the Raptors would have to pay a rotation player $20 million. What if that happens?
With Fields the Raptors have added another hard working and talented player to the roster who fits in with the new team’s new direction. Fields is a do the dirty work type of player—in a junkyard dog style and will be appreciated by the hard working Raptor faithful. And being a perennial underachiever that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in four years the likelihood of signing anyone of greater importance or talent is remote, the better likelihood is that the Raptors add a piece through free agency and add a bigger piece through trade.
"Thanks for nothing Steve,” was one comment posted on Rogers Sportsnet. "Nice message to send other free agents when our Canadian superstar does not even want to be in Toronto.”
Please. Give your head a shake.
Nash could have chased the money and gone for one last big cash grab. Instead the 38-year-old point guard turned down the reported $36-million, three-year offer from the Raptors and took a three-year, $27-million contract from the Lakers. To make the sign-and-trade deal work, the Suns received four draft picks.
"Steve Nash will make the Lakers a championship contender,” former Laker great Magic Johnson said in a tweet. "His passing ability will make all the Lakers better including their big 3.”
When Nash agreed to become general manager of Canada’s senior men’s basketball team many people believed it was his first step to returning to Canada. That might make sense if there still was an NBA team in Vancouver, but what exactly did Nash owe Toronto? He grew up in Victoria and played his college basketball in Santa Clara. A huge soccer fan, he is part owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
From TSN’s Canadian Person Aaron Bronsteter there are some "unconfirmed rumblings" that Toronto has offered the expiring contract of Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, and DeMar DeRozan (both 23 at the start of next season) in exchange for Andre Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic. Calderon would be lovely behind Jrue Holiday for a season and not hurt the cap in any way. Davis regressed a bit in his second season as a pro, but can still rebound the ball at both ends and play a little bit of D.
DeRozan is a different story. Didn’t like him out of school (USC), warmed on him after his rookie year, but as his usage has gone up, his efficiency has gone down. He shot a mostly-empty 42.2% from the field last season, failing to find an outside shot to supplement his pretty solid midrange game. He doesn’t rebound, doesn’t pass, and so far, hasn’t defended. That’s a lot of "doesn’t's", which is concerning, even though he’s still currently 22. He wouldn’t "fit" with Jrue or Evan Turner either.
My initial reaction was of the DO IT PLEASE variety, mostly because I don’t know that they’ll be able to get any better offers and at the very least, you pick up a guy who I feel like could be a starting 4 on a legitimate club. Plus, the deal would make them worse in the short term and get a few more lotto picks in town. But a few Twitter conversations later, and the DeRozan regressions are more concerning, and I’m hoping they at least find a way to get a first rounder in return for Dre.
DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross might have the potential to solidify one of the wing positions going forward. The combination of Andrea Bargnani plus one of Ed Davis or Amir Johnson probably have one more season to show us if they hold the key at the power forward position. Regardless of whether it’s from internal improvement or external upgrades, the Raptors will obviously need to get better at the wings and at the four-spot.
Other than that, a decision will need to be made at backup point guard and at centre, where the team will need a reliable yet inexpensive option to help smooth Valanciunas’ transition into a full time starter.
I’m as big a Jerryd Bayless supporter as you’ll find, and the presence of Bayless, who has put up very impressive numbers when given extended minutes, was the reason I thought it would be incredibly short-sighted to overpay for Goran Dragic or sell the farm for Lowry. Unfortunately for Jerryd, he and Lowry play similar styles at the point, and Jose Calderon’s game probably compliments Lowry’s much better than Bayless’ would. On that note, Bayless may be the odd man out, leaving a pretty good point guard combination of Lowry and Calderon for 2012-2013. Plus, Calderon has to have some value as a large expiring contract who can efficiently run an offence, so if anything, the Raptors can probably get something for him in the middle of next season.
If the Raptors brass believes Valanciunas can play 20-plus minutes per night immediately, then I would be more than open to the prospect of re-signing Aaron Gray to a team-friendly contract and having him fill in at centre, with one of Amir or Davis filling the extra minutes at the five-spot. If they don’t feel Valanciunas is ready for heavy minutes, it could be quite the scramble at centre.
Sometimes Plan B is the better route to success though.
Yes, Nash is a special talent that would have sold tickets at an astronomical rate and possibly transformed Toronto into a playoff team but he is in the twilight of a stellar career and is the cherry on the top for a team that is looking to contend for a title. He is not a piece of the puzzle for a team trying to climb into the upper echelon of the NBA.
At 26, Lowry is exactly what the Raptors were hoping to add to the team when last season ended. The team wanted a young veteran who would meld with a rapidly-developing core of youngsters. Pair Lowry with Jonas Valanciunas, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan and you have a pretty impressive group of youngsters to thrown on the floor.
In his first season in the Big Smoke, coach Dwane Casey changed the culture in Toronto, transforming a team that was woeful on its own end of the floor into a squad that moved into the middle of the pack defensively. Nash is not exactly known as a defensive stopper (more like a turnstile) but Lowry is a gritty one-on-one defender and he will only help move the team to the next level when they are looking to protect their own basket. And the grit is also a big factor as this is a team that is a tad soft at times.
Lowry’s contract will pay him just under $12 million over the next two seasons less than the salary that Nash was reportedly offered per season by the Raptors. (And the team may have been considering upping that to as an enticement to Nash prior to his decision to move to the Los Angeles Lakers.) Of course the addition of a new starting point guard creates another problem for the Raptors. What do they do with Jose Calderon?
The Spaniard has been a solid team player and role model for all of these youngsters during his time in Toronto and is a fairly strong player in his own right. His ability to take care of the ball is second to none – his assist to turnover ratio of xx was especially impressive last season when you looked at some of the players the Raptors threw onto the floor.
Odds are, the classy Calderon would be willing to move to a back-up role for the Raptors if that is what the team requested but with a salary of $10 million next season, that would is quite the payout for a player who is not a starter.