Why Did the Raptors Extend Lowry? And Why Now?

On Monday morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski announced — somewhat unexpectedly — that Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors have agreed to a 1-year, $31 million contract extension that will keep the 5-time All-Star in Toronto through the 2020-21 season. 

The extension makes some sense, given that the Raptors want to remain competitive while also rewarding arguably the greatest Raptor of all time. But it also doesn’t, given that Masai Ujiri was open about wanting to keep his options open heading into a transition season and could have handed Lowry the same extension in July.

However, it appears that Ujiri had little choice but to extend Lowry ahead of the season considering the point guards’ demands. According to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange:

“Part of Lowry’s slow playing training camp was driven by an effort to maintain some control of his destiny. If the Raptors weren’t going to give him an extension, sources close to Lowry say, he was prepared to hold out and try and force a deal to a destination of his choosing rather than allow the club to control the timing.”

This is the era of player empowerment, and Lowry is smart to take advantage of the new leverage players have. It seems clear that Ujiri didn’t want to upset the oldest serving Raptor and the one remaining relic of the Lowry-DeRozan-Casey era. It wasn’t purely a legacy deal — especially given that Lowry wanted three years and Ujiri got it down to just one — but it keeps both parties happy heading into a title-defense season while also keeping the Raptors’ options open. 

“Kyle has an incredible legacy here that I think we all have underrated,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said back on Raptors media day. “We’ve had our ups and downs and bumps and grinds, but the inner core of who he is as a player and what he’s done with this franchise, he definitely deserves that. There’s legacy status for him in my opinion.”

Lowry is smart enough to understand that short point guards don’t tend to age well in the NBA, and a $31 million payout through age 35 was as good as he was going to get. But the Raptors can still trade Lowry before the 2019-20 trade deadline, and a two-year deal might be more intriguing to certain teams looking for a point guard than what would have simply been a rental. With that being said, I think Ujiri will be kind enough to keep Lowry in the decision-making process if a trade does present itself. 

Ujiri has positioned Raptors to still have the option of trading Lowry if the right deal presents itself this season while also leaving themselves in a good position to acquire free agents next summer regardless of if Lowry’s expensive contract is still on the books. With Pascal Siakam still unsigned, the Raptors will likely still enter the summer of 2020 with enough cap space to sign a max-player before re-signing Siakam. Plus, Lowry will be entirely off the books by the summer of 2021, which is the year the Raptors have targetted all along considering the size and talent of the free-agent class including names like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, LeBron James, and many more.

As Micah Adams acknowledges, free agents want to join a team that has a winning culture. By extending Lowry, the Raptors have the option to continue winning and impress free agents with their roster and culture. The deal also shows free agents that the Raptors take care of their players — especially those who bring Toronto championships. 

Dwane Casey is gone. DeMar DeRozan is gone. Kawhi Leonard is gone. But Kyle Lowry is still a Raptor, signed through 2021, and — most importantly — perhaps the greatest Raptor of all time. Regardless of if Ujiri trades him or keeps him until the end of this contract or longer, Lowry will always have that; he will always know that he changed the Raptors franchise and the city of Toronto forever. No one can take that — or his championship ring — away from him.

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