All signs point to Kyle Lowry’s exit

The Raptors organization must make a tough but necessary move regarding the talismanic, Kyle Lowry.

Edit: This article has gotten quite a response. To clarify, Bruce Arthur’s column had this in it:

And Toronto’s dream of one evaporated, so now comes the unwinding. Point guard Kyle Lowry, burnished with a championship pedigree and in the final year of his contract, will likely be traded.

This article is an explanation on why that take may be considered valid.

Have at it.

“Players and coaches don’t win championships; organizations win championships”, Jerry Krause, General Manager of the Chicago Bulls was once quoted as saying. Michael Jordan had succinctly responded, “I didn’t see organizations playing with the flu in Utah.” Krause then insisted he was misquoted and that he had mentioned the word “alone” between “coaches” and “don’t”. For those who remember, it was banter of the highest order. 

Such a quote is what philosopher Daniel Dennett termed a deepity, a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another. However you understand the implications of the quote, at this juncture in the Raptors timeline, it is entirely up to the organization to course a path out of the spot we’re in. The organization had done impeccable work setting up the team to win the title and the players executed, but now the ball is back in the front office’s court to set the sails. The first order of business is very likely to deal Kyle Lowry. I would imagine it pains everyone’s soul to even entertain such talk, but there is ample reasoning to suggest that it is a sound choice.

The idea that the current roster can get to the NBA finals with only minor tinkering is a fallacy and rooted in hope than reality. The East hasn’t strengthened and you can argue that it has even thinned out with Jimmy Butler shifting to Miami.  The acquisitions of Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have made the Raptors a formidable defensive team, but it doesn’t solve the Raptors issue that they have a sizable scoring void which cannot be filled without giving up another scorer. Expecting a trade which retains the major talent while acquiring enough to fill this void is highly unlikely, and would only happen by giving up on picks well into the future. As we discovered over the last few days Masai Ujiri is not inclined to this action, leaving us in doldrums.

Kyle Lowry is now a champion quarterback whose experience will be invaluable to any team vying for title contention. Nobody would have guessed that Lowry’s peak value would be at 33 years of age while making $33 million, but that’s exactly what it is. The Raptors will look to maximize the value of this asset. If we enter a pseudo-rebuild year awaiting either Pascal Siakam’s ascension or another free-agency/trade market, this value will depreciate without adding any tangible returns. Though the Lakers and the Clippers have nothing of value left to offer, teams like the Denver Nuggets who may fancy themselves a contender could see Lowry as a key piece and offer younger assets and future picks. This is worth exploring.

Kyle Lowry has paid his dues languishing on rebuilding teams and a perfect send-off for him would be to transition into the palliative care of a title contender. Dragging him through another transitory phase seems cruel. It would be a far more dignified transition than DeMarcus Cousins panhandling with a “Will Work for Ring” sign around his neck. This would be a wave goodbye similar to what Golden State did with Andre Iguodala, and much like Iggy, there is not a shadow of a doubt that Lowry will be the first Raptor jersey retired. A perfect timeline would include a repeat coinciding with his contract expiring but this type of exit is the next best thing, though I concede it is a distant second choice.

There is also the issue of succession and Fred VanVleet is chomping at the bit for a starting role. Having proven himself capable to play big moments this spring, it would make perfect sense for him to quarterback his own team to check how he fares. He would also be auditioning for the Raptors to see if the point guard spot is as steady as they had thought. VanVleet has one year left on his deal at $8.8 million and the Raptors have to decide if they’ll pay him big money. Though Ujiri has shown an inclination to extend some contracts early, if he feels a little unsure regarding VanVleet’s credentials of being a #1 option, next year is a perfect time to test that out.

It can be lucrative for the Raptors if Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry can be viewed as a sub-package of a title contender. Though the math is difficult to work out, multiple teams have to get involved and the Raptors will likely have to eat cash, packaging them together could be seen by some teams as a shortcut to contention. If Chris Paul’s deal wasn’t so stupid and a year shorter, we might have even gotten some picks out of Houston who always think they’re in it even though they’re well out of it. Or perhaps the Spurs might be interested in Marc Gasol since they’ve never quite replaced Tim Duncan’s passing. The Sixers who saw first-hand how effective Lowry can be might entertain him as an option to mentor or support Ben Simmons, maybe even having the latter play the two. The point is that there is a market for our championship leftovers, and the Raptors should be happy to take back a rotation player plus picks. Of course, there’s always the Knicks who might even bite on Gasol or Lowry simply for mentorship purposes.

Kawhi Leonard’s exit hurt the Raptors and you could argue the lateness of the decision did even more damage to the organization’s plans. Given the volume and creativity of deals that were made over the last week, one has to imagine that if Ujiri had officially put the assets he now has on the block earlier, something significant would have materialized. This would have gone some way to cushioning the blow of the eventual exit.

Kyle Lowry is forever in our hearts and soon to be in the rafters. The parting gift he yields could be yet another massive contribution to this organization.