So Kyle Lowry could be headed to the Heat. I personally don’t buy it just because of the amount of contract restructuring that would need to happen in Miami for the big three to get their money, Lowry to get his, and the Heat having enough left over to sign something better than Rashard Lewis. However, stranger things have happened and the Raptors are one of those teams that has a habit of losing good players without netting anything in return.
A Kyle Lowry exit is a horrifying prospect because any version of a near-term outlook for a fan involves Lowry, the unquestionable leader of last season, being front-and-center. Take him out of the equation without getting a return and things get to the point where you’d seriously question what the point of having a good season was, other than reminding everyone that there is a basketball team in town. Such an exit would also be quite a disaster for Masai Ujiri, whose asset-collection measures would suffer a reverse worse than Bryan Colangelo losing Chris Bosh for a TPE his own pick being returned. The psychological impact on the team, and the message it would send to budding players like DeMar DeRozan would also have to be sorted out. From an image portrayal perspective, it would be the exact opposite of what Tim Leiweke is trying to project Toronto as, given his signings with the Leafs and TFC.
Of course, it’s understandable why the Heat are an attractive proposition for Lowry, who would get a legitimate shot at a title with the 4-time NBA finalists, something veterans like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Rashard Lewis have already done. The difference with Lowry would be that he’s only 28 and hasn’t yet taken a shot at a title on his own, fell short, and then went seeking the peripheral role on an already-stacked side. He would, you could argue, be part of the new “big three” with Chris Bosh or Dwayne Wade seeing the door, instead of a role player. In any scenario, it’s bad news for the Raptors who would not only be left with a emotional and leadership void, but also would be a point-guard short.
I have to imagine that something as significant as this has to be known and sorted out well before the draft because it changes the approach towards draft night entirely. It takes the Raptors from a team seeking specific, small improvements to one that is trying to find a starting point guard, and the worst part is that it would be in plain sight of everyone, reducing Ujiri’s bargaining position. There is the chance that the Raptors might get something in a sign-and-trade deal (the two franchises have dealt in the past multiple times), something resembling Norris Cole which is asymptotic. Note that Miami literally has nothing to give back in a S&T.
To be clear, this wouldn’t be as terrible as hitting a reset button and going to back to rebuilding (after the best draft in years), it would simply mean that the pressure on the existing core to improve and produce would be significant. Do remember that when the Raptors lost Tracy McGrady to Orlando, they followed it up with an even more successful season and Raptors fans would have to hope that history would repeat itself (and also hope that DeMar DeRozan comes close to what Vince Carter was in his heyday, a rather long shot). It would change the priorities in the draft as well, lending credence to the Tyler Ennis-talk, or even Elfrid Payton, who Draft Express has already updated as the Raptors selecting.
Another view you could take is that Kyle Lowry served his purpose in Toronto. He rejuvenated Toronto basketball for one season in his contract year, got the fans back, and it’s now time for the Raptors to take it from there. Don’t let the sour grapes drenched all over this view diminish its possibility. Lowry, who is prone to weight issues, did only have one great year where he took many a defense by surprise. You could easily argue that his performances aren’t repeatable against an expectant rather than surprised defense, so it’s best the Raptors part ways (though losing him for nothing still stings). To console yourself you could also see it as the contention windows of DeRozan, Ross and Valanciunas (24, 23, and 22) being rather different than that of Lowry (28), though it’s quite realistic to think the four being partners for the next two years as Lowry turns 30. Oh well.
Naturally, I’m going to back to thinking what Lowry would have fetched at his peak last season, and the best estimate I can make is what the Knicks were offering. If the Raptors had flipped him for Imam Shumpert and a Knicks’ future pick (Knicks don’t have a pick this year and Tim Hardway Jr. was never quite on the table), it would mean the Raptors roster wouldn’t look drastically different if Lowry does end up leaving. They’d be, more or less, in the same position they are now only with Shumpert on the roster. I’m not sure how much better of a position that is.
I have my hopes that he stays, repeats his performances and on the strength of an improving core, the Raptors take a leap forward. It is a distinct possibility that Lowry goes to the Heat (again, very difficult due to contract restructuring), Lakers or any other big market team in hopes of chasing a title. What’s working in favor of the Raptors is that unlike guys like Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, or Paul Pierce, who could be signed for cheap on account of their ring-chasing priority, Kyle Lowry would be looking for a big contract first, and a title-chase second, if for no other reason than that he’s got more time than them. That puts the Raptors in a pole position, making this in my opinion, a question of whether Masai Ujiri wants to pay the rate based on a contract year, thus trumping the advances of sides that consider themselves title-chasers.