What a long strange trip it’s been. Within the span of just over a year, Jodie Meeks and Kyle Lowry went from here
When the Toronto Raptors signed Meeks to a ten-day contract on February 20, the deal made some sense. There was no risk attached, as the worst outcome would be simply refusing to renew the deal. The team was 43-16, and it looked like a title contender. It had to fill out the bench after the team traded Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and CJ Miles to the Memphis Grizzlies for Marc Gasol. The team added Jeremy Lin in the buyout market to sop up Wright’s minutes on February 13, but the roster was still a little thin. As a career 37.3 percent 3-point shooter, Meeks made some logical sense.
Of course, that Meeks and Lowry had previously fought, and that Meeks had been serving a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug program, made the signing potentially curious. Meeks could have been rusty after not having played NBA basketball since April 11 of the previous season, and any potential difficulties could have been exacerbated by Meeks’ change in role in coming to Toronto.
However, Meeks immediately exploded onto the scene.
In his first game, on February 24 against the Orlando Magic, Toronto struggled out of the gates. The Raptors had been riding a seven-game winning streak, culminating in an emotional and poetic win over DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs. It made sense that the team’s performance in the following game might constitute an emotional lull. The Raptors opened the game flat, falling behind the Magic 25-15 in the first quarter, as the effort was as low as it had been all year. Orlando found easy layups all game long. Meeks entered the game early in the second quarter and provided some energy. Within three minutes, he had canned a pair of triples, and a few layups later, the Raptors were within three points at half. It was a high point for Toronto’s new acquisition.
Toronto signed Meeks to a deal for the remainder of the season on March 25. Though Meeks would be relatively quiet for the rest of the season – save a 14-point explosion against the Chicago Bulls in a game without Kawhi Leonard – he was an entrenched part of the rotation by the playoffs. Meeks shot 44.4 percent from deep in his eight regular season games as a Raptor, and he looked the part of a vet who could contribute in low minutes when the team needed a low-usage, stabilizing force to hold the fort when its stars needed rest.
Meeks appeared in Toronto’s first 10 games of the playoffs, if usually playing for a few minutes at the ends of the first and third quarters. It was a difficult ask of Meeks, whose numbers dipped precipitously in the playoffs. His shooting percentages dipped to 31 percent from the field and 15 percent from deep, while he averaged only 4.8 minutes played in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the team was massacred in the few minutes that Meeks took the floor, as the team that would win the championship was outscored by 18 points across the playoffs when Meeks took the floor. In a per-100 possession basis, Toronto was outscored by 12.1 points when Meeks was on the floor. It was the only negative mark among players who played in at least half of Toronto’s games.
In hindsight, it’s clear that Toronto improved in the playoffs when it cut its rotation to only eight – and occasionally seven – players. Meeks was solid in the regular season, but his role in the playoffs proved too insecure and too demanding for that consistency to continue. Of course, that’s to be expected. End of rotation pickups towards the end of the season aren’t supposed to play in the playoffs. They’re supposed to sop up regular season minutes, play sparingly, and keep the locker room intact. Meeks did exactly that. He is and will forever be a champion as a result, and no complaints over his playoff playing time can change that.
Meeks remains an unrestricted free agent, and at this point, it’s quite unlikely that Meeks will return to Toronto. Without Danny Green and Leonard gone, Toronto’s chances at a proper title defense have diminished, and the value of quality vets at the end of the bench like Meeks or Jeremy Lin has diminished, as well. That’s fine. Meeks outplayed any and all expectations in the 2018-19 season, and he was a member of a title team in Toronto. In hindsight, worries about Meeks and Lowry’s previous dust-up were, indeed, overblown.