Kyle Lowry has declined his player option for the 2017-18 season, according to his agency, ASM Sports.
This is hardly news, but Lowry informing the Toronto Raptors of his decision was a formality that required wrapping up within seven days of the conclusion of the Raptors’ playoff run. Lowry said at locker clean-out day Monday that this was coming, and in pedantic terms, he didn’t even have to take this step – the option would have just expired un-exercised Sunday (yes, this note is included just for Dan Hackett)
With Lowry standing to earn far more than the $12-million value of his option for next year, an opt-out was always something close to a certainty, barring injury. Like with DeMar DeRozan a year ago, Lowry declining his option says little about his intentions for the offseason and only informs that he likes more money compared to less money. The Raptors will still own his Bird rights, allowing them to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him and offer him more term and money (five years and $205 million based on current estimates) than any other team (four years, $149.9 million).
What happens from here is one of the most interesting storylines facing the Raptors this offseason. I wrote about it in more detail at Vice the other day. It’s not straightforward, and arguments for or against retaining him are a matter of perspective.
The Raptors hold a major edge should they want to retain Lowry, as they can offer that fifth year on a deal as well as larger annual raises, meaning his potential contract for staying stands to be about $55.1 million more than if he signs elsewhere. If money is the deciding factor for Lowry, the Raptors can offer him more of it than anyone else, even if it’s at slightly less than his maximum contract – they’d have that entire $149.9M-$205M band to negotiate within and still have the edge, whether it be on a larger four-year max ($158.4M) or on a five year sub-max (something smoothed out, like $35M annually for $175M). And like DeRozan, Lowry may or may not be willing to take a small haircut on the annual price to help maintain team flexibility and maximize his total earnings over five years (DeRozan signed for about 91 percent of his max).
But Lowry may not want to stay. He seemed frustrated at times with the ceiling the Raptors have been bumping into for a couple of years, and there has been an unspoken on-and-off tension that appears to exist between Lowry and head coach Dwane Casey. However much all parties involved downplay it, it went noticed. It seems unlikely that Masai Ujiri would take kindly to an ultimatum on that front, but Lowry can make the case that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to run things back without a change behind the bench (and there have been rumblings that his camp suggested as much to the Raptors before he re-signed last time around).
Lowry is fiercely competitive and has been adamant over time that he only measures things by championships, and how he evaluates Toronto’s chances versus those of other potential situations could weigh in. So, too, could his friendship with DeRozan, who provides a sort of insulation around the oft-prickly point guard. DeRozan has said he won’t get involved, like Lowry didn’t get involved with DeRozan’s free agency beyond being there as a friend.
There’s also no certainty about what Toronto’s plans for the offseason are, and if their aim is to take a step back, Lowry may not be in the plans. It would make little sense to re-up a 31-year-old point guard to a long-term, big-money deal if the aim is to compete a couple of years down the line rather than in the short-term, and Lowry’s free agency could say a lot about Toronto’s intentions to maximize their current window again or punt the remainder of the LeBron James era. If the Raptors want to remain competitive and take another run at the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lowry more or less has to stay – he’s been immensely important to the team over the last couple of seasons, he remains one of their two best players, and his departure could potentially make it more difficult to retain other free agents. There’s also the matter of Toronto not having anywhere near the space to replace him – at point guard or in terms of talent elsewhere on the roster – even if he leaves.
If Lowry and Toronto are no longer a match, his summer will be interesting. Outside of Chris Paul, he’s the best point guard on the market, and there will be a number of teams who could be looking for an experienced All-Star to fortify their roster. If Lowry’s not as worried about near-term competition as he’s let on, maybe his hometown Philadelphia 76ers present an option. It’s worth noting here that under the current collective bargaining agreement, sign-and-trades are somewhat archaic and don’t stand to benefit a player financially (a sign-and-trade no longer allows players to receive the fifth year or larger raises on a deal that they’d receive for staying, so sign-and-trades are only a tool for flexibility of landing spot, not to help the player earn more), so they’re probably only on the table if Lowry wants to end up somewhere without cap space and the Raptors are willing to facilitate for an asset in return.
We won’t know more until July 1 beyond rumblings. A reminder: Lowry is close with Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, and Woj has always had almost every relevant scrap of Lowry-related information. If it’s not coming from Woj, or maybe Marc Stein, be careful with the source and who may be giving them their information (might rhyme with Shyman Shmaschmangelo).