When I look back on the 2014/2015 Raptors, it’s hard not to think of Kyle Lowry first and foremost. I think of him for good reasons: the amazing start, the show of faith in the offseason (and the larger show of the fact that marquee free agents don’t flee Toronto like the plague), and the All-Star start. I also think of him for bad ones: a realization that he can’t carry the team on his back without a secondary star, the injuries, the rumoured rift with Casey, and, of course, the late-season collapse.
However, in both cases, there is one unassailable truth to Lowry and the Raptors: the man serves as a barometer for the whole, in both easy and hard times. As Will pointed out in his excellent piece yesterday, Lowry’s turn of form mirrored the team’s, but it’s about more than that: his emotional attitude and playing style seemed to mirror the Raptors, as well. When Lowry started chucking, instead of picking his spots and distributing, the team did, too; when he started reverting back to his old emotional ways and picking up ticky-tack fouls or gambling on defence, so did his teammates. As it stands, the man is our unquestioned leader; moving pieces around him is just window dressing.
This, of course, places the Raptors in an interesting – and unenviable – position moving forward. The Raptors, as currently constructed, are nothing without Lowry; yet if you take the playoffs as a barometer, as Ujiri suggested he’d do, the Raptors, as currently constructed, are going nowhere. It’s tough to suggest restructuring the team when you’re not sure if the foundation you’re restructuring them around is solid.
Compounding this is the fact that Lowry’s sample size at the end of the season was both short and, possibly, tainted by illness or injury. Put simply, the team just doesn’t have enough information to make a very important decision this offseason: is Kyle Lowry the unflappable leader we saw last season? Or is he (and it kills me to write this) the second coming of Rudy Gay, in point guard form?
Again, these are discussions that mirror the Raps, as presently constructed – it’s entirely possible that they are simply the team version of Rudy Gay, and Lowry’s late-season low-efficiency chucking could simply be a symptom of a system failure, or of other iso-happy teammates. Truth be told, the Raptors entire guard rotation have very similar playing styles (Greivis is a semi-outlier, but not really), and Lowry is the most well-known, well-established, and well-traveled out of them all.
However, being the team’s leader forces a microscope on you – one that Lowry would say he wants, I’m sure, if you asked him. And so, with the team playing so poorly, this all begs the question: with Lowry on a relatively large contract (though not if he plays to his 2014 levels) and the team, seemingly, at another crossroads, could it be time to re-examine the idea of moving him in order to either a) begin a teardown or b) restructure around another leader (either DeMar or someone from outside the organization)?
This is, of course, the definition of a “knee-jerk” suggestion, but you’d be kidding yourself if you said that the thought didn’t cross your mind during the Washington series. Personally, I’d prefer to try and replace the coach, the system, something, before moving to this option. It’s hard to tell what the market would even be for someone like Lowry at this stage (that small sample size is tough for both the Raptors and any other teams interested in evaluating him), and his value is likely as low as it’s been for the last couple years. It’s the safe bet – the economist’s play – to simply wait things out and re-evaluate next season.
With all that being said, I’d love to hear what you think about Kyle’s culpability in the team’s tough finish: is the man a victim of a system, a coach, injuries, and chucking teammates? Or is he, perhaps, the chicken that comes before the Raptors’ egg?
Like the Raptor front office, let’s evaluate everything this offseason. The leader of the Raptors is as good a place to start as any.