It’s an oversimplification that is completely naive to the multitudes of complexity that go into an NBA game at the highest levels. It eschews constant gamesmanship from the sidelines to devise lineups and schemes that can fight fire with fire. After a Raptors-Celtics series defined by brilliant defensive adjustments and some timely shotmaking from across the rotation, this archaic superstar deification harkens back to the halcyon days of pre-enlightenment basketball. It is the analysis equivalent to throwing it to the post against a triple team.
But after watching Jayson Tatum close out the Raptors en route to a 92-87 Game 7 victory Friday to advance to the conference finals, it’s just undeniably true. Tatum is Occam’s Razor in action. Perhaps it took the Murphy’s Law simulation known publicly as the Raptors-Celtics series to confirm it. But after spending the series meticulously dissecting the intricacies of the game plans and play execution across the board, this game seemed to just boil down to him elevating Boston to victory.
We’ve seen it time and again that in the heat of these moments, Tatum puts his face to the flames. He is increasingly becoming more comfortable with the pressure and embracing being the one to close. The 22-year-old became the second-youngest player in NBA history to record at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, trailing only the late Kobe Bryant, his mentor.
There have been few wings in NBA history to win at the highest levels in such a featured role so early in their careers. Tatum now has become the leading scorer on two conference finals teams. This is only his third season. Bryant didn’t even start until that point in his career. Tatum is averaging 25.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his third playoff run. Giannis Antetokounmpo (last season) is the only other perimeter player ever to clear those thresholds under the age of 24.
Born in Douala, Cameroon and the youngest of four brothers who all wanted to fulfill their late father’s dream of playing the NBA, Siakam didn’t start playing organized basketball until he was 16 years old and there began his implausible path towards NBA stardom.
First starting in high school where he played at the prep school God’s Academy in Lewisville, Texas, where he earned a scholarship with New Mexico State University, despite being a relatively unknown. Then getting selected 27th overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 2016 NBA Draft where all he did was get better season after season culminating in a Most Improved Player award in 2019. Which then led to this season where he was named an all-star for the first time in his career (as a starter no less) and was looking to be worth every bit of the four-year, $130-million extension he signed before the season started, slated to kick in for the 2020-21 season.
This kind of meteoric ascent is pretty much unprecedented for an unheralded player like Siakam was and for a time it felt like he could only go up in his progression over time.
But here’s the funny thing about progression; it doesn’t always conveniently work out to be just a nice upwards ascent. There’s bound to be dips here and there.
And so, like any good story, if Siakam is the Raptors’ main protagonist as his big contract suggests he is, he had to eventually fail in order to rise up once again.
“It was tough and I think we hung in there trying to find ways and, at the end of the day, obviously, I have to be better,” said Siakam after his Raptors fell to the Boston Celtics, 92-87, in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal. “It was definitely a learning moment for me just learning from this experience and just learning that you’ve gotta be ready and that I wasn’t able to really help my teammates, so, yeah, I take a lot of the blame, man.”
“I have to tip my hat off to Toronto,” Tatum said. “They’re the defending champs, they’ve got a lot of heart. They made us earn that.”
The Raptors tested the Celtics throughout the series. Their defensive intensity and physicality are rare. Their willingness to play junk defenses – and play them well – is unique. Their versatility, intelligence and competitiveness are special. Lowry flew around on every possession like flames would catch him if he ever stopped hustling. VanVleet guarded like someone six inches taller than his 6-foot frame. OG Anunoby hit a game-winning shot. Serge Ibaka hardly ever seemed to miss. Norm Powell went off when everyone else was drained at the end of Game 6. Coach Nick Nurse dialed up defensive coverages to stymie Kemba Walker, who rarely looks flummoxed. Stevens said Tatum experienced “everything he could possibly see” throughout the series.
The Celtics know what types of challenges they handled in the second round. They believe they are stronger now after surviving such a confrontation of wills. Stevens said he had never coached in a series where the opponent tried more defensive strategies.
“Right when something worked, the next play it didn’t work anymore,” Stevens said. “That’s a credit to them. They keep you on your toes the whole time. He’s a heck of a coach. They’ve got really smart players. I think Lowry, obviously, he’s up there with the best I’ve ever coached against as far as thinking the game and putting people in spots and especially on the defensive end. He doesn’t get enough credit for it. We should definitely be hardened. We should definitely have a lot more in our toolbox to go back to. We have to get ready for a different, more unique team now in Miami.”
It is no secret that if Siakam was playing better, the Raptors’ chances to win this series would have been far greater. Here is the thing, Siakam was in a tough position considering the pressure on him to essentially play the role of Kawhi Leonard who won am NBA Finals MVP with a dominant playoff performance for the ages.
Losing Leonard was supposed to be a devastating turn of events for the Raptors but they still managed to put up a stronger season without him. Nick Nurse certainly had a big part in that but so did Siakam, it just seems he lost his way when the NBA play resumed in the bubble.
The Raptors were able to overcome that because the team’s identity throughout the season wasn’t defined by the success or failure of one player. Sure, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby were heroes when called upon but they didn’t do it by themself.
In an NBA where stars run the league, Toronto was trying to prove they could overcome the loss of their star and they almost did. They are a team without a lottery pick on their roster and yet they never made it easy against the Celtics who have their fair share.
There will be many questions facing the Raptors this off-season and it will be important to lock in the important foundational pieces of the franchise starting with Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse. Making sure they are around for the long haul ensures the Raptors can remain a competitive group, but it won’t be easy.
Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka highlight the important components of the championship calibre team that will be looking for new deals. Bringing them back has its challenges especially when the team will likely need to make some additions to beat a team like Boston that has a core that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s name will be an intriguing one considering all the talks about his future with the Milwaukee Bucks. Ujiri will likely have him in mind just like he did with Leonard, but he will have to look at other options too.
A couple days before it even came to a close, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens perfectly summarized his team’s hard fought seven-game second-round playoff series with the Toronto Raptors.
“I was talking on the radio show in Boston and they asked why don’t you impose your will all the time,” Stevens said ahead of Wednesday’s Game 6, which the Raptors would go on to win in a double-overtime thriller for the ages. “Well, the other team is out there, too. In the very best games, both teams are imposing their will to the nth degree, and those are the special games that people talk about for a long time. That’s just part of the playoffs. It’s fun.”
That’s how most of this thing felt. It was a battle of Eastern Conference heavyweights, two tough, evenly matched teams fighting it out until the very end.
In the end, though, the Celtics fought harder, played better, and won. They deserved to win, too. In the end, the Raptors – a team that spent the entirety of an extra-long and super strange season overachieving – felt like they underachieved, and they probably did.
We never saw them at their best in this series. They didn’t come to play in the opener, or in Game 5, their offence was often a mess, their all-star and future face of the franchise was a shell of himself, and in many ways, they beat themselves with turnovers and unforced errors in a very winnable Game 7 on Friday.
Even still, through sheer will at times, they gave themselves a chance and, fittingly, went down swinging.
“It was an unbelievable battle, man,” said Kyle Lowry, following his team’s 92-87 loss to Boston, who will advance to face the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals. “Those guys, they beat us fair and square. They played extremely hard. They made it tough on us. We made it tough on them. We had opportunities to win it. They came out and did their job and they won and they move on. For us, it’s sad that we had more to give.”
It’s with mixed feelings that the reigning champions leave the NBA bubble – en route home to their loved ones after an emotionally draining three months in Florida. They can be proud of their remarkable season, while also feeling some understandable regret over its disappointing conclusion.
How Will Pascal Siakam Come Back From This?
Every budding star in the NBA goes through growing pains in the playoffs. It can even happen to an MVP like Giannis Antetokounmpo. Pascal Siakam didn’t have his best series in the second round, and as someone the Raptors expect to be one of the leaders of the team moving forward, he’ll have to learn from this defeat in the offseason.
Siakam’s entire series was forgettable. After averaging a 23-7-4 during the regular season, those numbers dipped to 15-7-3 in the East semis. Nick Nurse rather stubbornly called on Siakam time and time again in the post against the Celtics, but Boston’s bevy of stout defenders (particularly Brown) routinely humbled Siakam. In the winner-take-all Game 7, Siakam scored only 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, with five turnovers to boot. He couldn’t find any easy buckets, and Raptors fans were surely sweating every time he touched the ball in the fourth.
Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol (who also struggled in this series) won’t be around forever. Toronto will be handing over the team to Siakam and (likely) VanVleet in the very near future. In a way, it’s better this happened to Siakam now rather than later. Playoff losses sting differently when you carry more of the responsibility. Siakam’s last shot of the game was a badly missed three that Toronto desperately needed if it wanted any chance of making a miserable comeback. Unfortunately, it was a fitting end for a player who had struggled in every game. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that a series like this one almost always becomes a significant motivator.
Smart’s block on Powell with 58.2 seconds left — a play reminiscent of the chasedown block by LeBron James against Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals — prevented Toronto from its best chance of tying the score in the final moments, as the Celtics advanced to the conference finals for a third time in four years.
After the Raptors survived close calls in Games 3 and 6, Smart’s block proved to be the moment that finally caused the defending champions to be sent home from the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.
“I bet on myself 110% of the time,” Smart said. “I’m first-team all-defense for a reason, and I believe in that wholeheartedly.”
Smart often trails in attention behind his higher-profile teammates in Boston, and that remained the case in Game 7. Jayson Tatum (29 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists) became the second-youngest player in NBA history to have at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a Game 7 — trailing only his idol, Kobe Bryant. Jaylen Brown had 21 points, and Kemba Walker struggled overall but made a couple of key plays in the fourth, including the clinching free throws with 7.9 seconds left.
But ask anyone around the Celtics, and they will be quick to say that it is Smart — with his toughness, his defense and his nonstop hustle — who is the heart and soul of this team. And it was fitting that his play was the one that helped seal Boston’s win, both in this game and this series.
“That block was so special,” Walker said. “It was unreal. That’s why he’s first-team all-defense. He shows it night in and night out. He made so many huge plays tonight. A lot of the things he does just go unnoticed.
“But that kid, he’s special, man. He’s on a different level at that end of the basketball court.”
“I thought a lot of it was just some fatigue,” coach Nick Nurse said of the Raptors’ sloppy effort in their season-ending 92-87 Game 7 loss to the Celtics. “I thought we were getting off passes a count early just because we just wanted to be done with that possession early, and it was going to take a little bit more strength and balance and another count of timing to get the right pass made, if that makes any sense. We were standing up a little bit, rather than being down in a tough, athletic position trying to make some of those plays. And that’s just fatigue.”
If you were a Raptors fan, Game 7 was sort of an odd, infuriating inverse of most of the series. Offence was next to impossible to come by for most of the series, but for a lot of it, you could see how the Celtics were forcing the Raptors into mistakes. In Game 7, there was some of that, sure, but there was more self-inflicted damage than ever before: 18 turnovers leading to 31 transition points for the Celtics, free money in a series in which everything was expensive. It was on everyone: Pascal Siakam simply losing the ball from his left hand; Ibaka leaving a drop pass for nobody; Lowry and Siakam getting their wires crossed on a screen action.
The fatigue played out elsewhere: Norman Powell failing to box out a hard-crashing Jayson Tatum after Grant Williams missed two free throws, or Lowry being a beat slow and fouling out after a Kemba Walker pass looked ripe for a steal.
It was not the coaching staff’s best night, either. Nurse got too cute when he played the lost Marc Gasol and Ibaka together against the quick Celtics, which undermined what had been a great stretch of play for the Raptors. You can argue his leash on Gasol was too long overall and that he should have taken Siakam out down the stretch, too, although those were defensible decisions.
Game 7, appropriately, was a see-saw battle, the lead changing hands 11 times before the Celtics took a 72-71 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The Celtics opened the fourth with a 7-0 run punctuated by a horrible turnover by Siakam.
Did Nurse consider taking Siakam out down the stretch?
“No,” the coach said.
A running dunk by Brown had Boston up by eight barely two minutes into the quarter.
The Raptors sliced the difference to just four, but then they unravelled once again due to turnovers, and Boston was back up by 10 points with 4:51 to play.
Toronto rallied once again, Lowry’s finger roll and a pair of free throws pulling his team to within two with points. But he fouled out with 35.4 seconds left.
Grant Williams missed two free throws, then VanVleet air-balled a three-point attempt with 12 seconds left, and it was game over for Toronto.
“If you want to achieve something great, if you want to win, it’s not going to be easy,” Tatum said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
After Kawhi Leonard bolted for the L.A. Clippers last summer, virtually no one expected much from the Raptors this season. But, despite a slew of injuries, they finished second in the East, and continued to turn heads after the NBA restart.
“They gave everything they had,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Special team.”
Fred VanVleet had 20 points, Lowry, who was spectacular all series, finished with 16 points, and Serge Ibaka finished with 14 off the bench for the Raptors.
But the Raptors played like the ball was slathered in butter, committing 18 turnovers. Those giveaways led to 31 points for the Celtics.
“Turnovers killed us,” Lowry said. “We were a little bit too fast. We were indecisive in decision-making, that killed us. We were really tentative in some of the things we should have been doing.”
Pascal Siakam, who led Toronto in scoring this season before the NBA suspended play on March 11 due to COVID-19, played like a shadow of himself since the restart. He had another off night with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.
“I have to be better,” Siakam said. “It was definitely a learning moment for me, just learning from this experience and just learning that you’ve got to be ready and that I wasn’t able to really help my teammates, so, yeah, I take a lot of the blame, man. I take a lot of the blame.”
The first thing Siakam wanted you to know after his Raptors lost Game 7 to the Boston Celtics on Friday is that he is accountable.
“I have to be better,” he said. “I take a lot of the blame, man. … Obviously, I felt like I didn’t really give what was expected from me, and I definitely take a lot of that blame, but as a team I think we played well and we fought. Like, that’s something that we did all season when things weren’t going well. We always fought and till the end, and I’m proud of those guys and I think everyone gave everything they had and, like I said, obviously, I’ve got to do better.”
Not that he’d have much of a choice in the matter, anyway, but Siakam took firm ownership of his struggles.
And they were glaring. He scored 13 points on 19 used possessions in an elimination game, inefficiency that is going to hurt even the deepest of offensive teams. The Raptors are not that, and Siakam’s struggles — to finish at the rim, to find soft spots in an elite Celtics defence, to make the right decisions on the fly — were emblematic of a very good Raptors team that, in the end, is more heart than talent at this stage. The Raptors’ floor is defined by an unbelievable, frenetic, versatile, effortful defence, of which Siakam is a key part. Their ceiling, though, was going to be defined by how much Siakam could grow on the job in his first postseason as a No. 1 option. That the Raptors came up on the wrong end of one of the best, most competitive series in recent NBA memory is not an indictment of where Siakam and the Raptors are going, but it’s a worthwhile snapshot of where they are today.
The NBA held a call with its Board of Governors on Thursday and informed them that the 2020-21 season will start no sooner than Dec. 25. and that the league will provide an announcement on next season’s structure with eight weeks‘ notice ahead of the final chosen start date, sources told The Athletic.
The NBA also had a call with the league’s 30 general managers on Friday. The league office added the 2020-21 season dates remain fluid following the four-and-a-half month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, sources said. The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are planning for a Nov. 18 NBA draft.
For next season, the NBA prefers in-market competition with reduced travel and an amount of fans — instead of the bubble environment it is playing in currently, according to sources.
The league is aiming for an 82-game regular season in 2020-21.
The NBA is planning a Draft Combine process beginning later this month and in two parts:
— Mid-September to early October: In-market medical exams and on-court drills and virtual interviews.
— Mid-October to Draft date: Teams will be able to conduct in-person interviews with prospects — but no workouts.
Also of note, the NBA and G League, which have already acquired several top prospects such as Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga for the new elite team Ignite, now have significant interest in pursuing top international players prior to their draft year. For example, this would be like if 2020 lottery prospect Killian Hayes played in the G League’s elite program prior to the draft. Hayes is a top prospect after playing professionally in Germany.
Pascal Siakam knows he didn’t perform up to his capabilities in the Toronto Raptors’ seven-game series loss to the Boston Celtics.
“At the end of the day I have to be better. It’s definitely a low moment for me,” Siakam told reporters after Toronto’s 92-87 loss in Game 7 on Friday night. “I wasn’t really able to help my teammates … I take a lot of the blame.”
Siakam capped off a frustrating series with a 13 point, five-turnover outing in Game 7. Across the seven contests, he shot 39.4% from the floor, including 4-of-32 from beyond the arc.
While Siakam’s rise from high-motor draft prospect in 2016 to All-Star this season has already been near-meteoric, he said this playoff experience is something to learn from.
“It’s an experience,” he added. “All the greats go through it and you have to learn from it. If you want to be considered one of the best players you have to be able to rise from these moments, and that’s something I plan to do.”
The rest of this one felt like a rusty seesaw, with both teams refusing to give an inch either way. Thanks to another burst from Lowry, VanVleet, and the reborn Norman Powell (who had 11 points on the night), Toronto was able to outscore the Celtics in the third, 25-22, and once again keep themselves close. However, unlike in Games 4 and 6, when it felt like the Raptors were gaining strength as the contest continued, here it looked like the energy was being sapped out of them. The Raptors did what they could to contain Kemba Walker (14 points) and Jaylen Brown (21 points), but for the most part they could not really contain Jayson Tatum. The Celtics’ young star continued to knife around the court on his way to a game-leading 29 point outburst, despite even some stirring defense from OG Anunoby (who had a mere four points along the way).
With Lowry getting some rare third quarter rest, the stage was set for battle in the fourth. And both teams did what they could to deliver, even if — as quickly became apparent — it was going to be a case of who could hang on the longest. The Raptors shot 35.7 percent from the field in the fourth, which was actually better than the Celtics’ 35.3. But Toronto turned the ball over six times, giving them a total of 23 giveaways on the night. In one sense, it was an inexplicable turn of events for such a disciplined and confident team. In another: it was clear the Raptors were running downhill on empty.
It was still possible, however, to see how the Raptors could pull this one out. Despite a 10-point lead for Boston with under five minutes to go, Toronto began chipping away again. Norm hit a jumper, then Siakam sprung loose for a tough lay-up over Boston rookie Grant Williams. Another trip to the line for Siakam brought the Raptors to within six before Lowry got back into the act with a driving lay-up and a pair of free throws. It felt like we’d seen this show before, with the Raptors willing themselves to victory in the face of foe who had just before looked impossible to defeat.
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH! pic.twitter.com/zgz4Ptjip1
— marcus smart (@smart_MS3) September 12, 2020
Sportsnet’s Michael Grange joins Brad Fay in discussing the Raptors season, both high and low and proved a lot of people wrong.
Four — Costly: Besides the final minute, the Raptors lost this game on turnovers and offensive rebounds. They had 18 turnovers leading directly to 31 points for the Celtics, and gave up 10 offensive rebounds which created extra opportunities for Boston. Credit the Celtics for being locked in all night, but so many of these errors could have been avoided if the Raptors had more focus. The live-ball turnovers in particular were brutal, and it usually came in the pick-and-roll with their guards. VanVleet had some awful drives leading nowhere with the pass being kicked out directly to the Celtics for dunks, and even some of the layups that he did attempt led to him falling over and a mismatch going the other way. For all of Toronto’s struggles in this series, turnovers and rebounding were manageable until this last game. Again, that has to sting all offseason.
Five — Quiet: It’s unreasonable to expect a 34-year-old Lowry, averaging over 40 minutes in the series, to consistently deliver superstar performances against an All-NBA defender in Marcus Smart. Lowry’s aggression just wasn’t the same at the start of the game, which has been the barometer in this series. It didn’t burn them early because other players stepped up, but those easy chances dried up. Lowry did turn it on for short bursts going to the basket, but it was too little, too late. And without Siakam to pick up the slack, there was just no life for Toronto’s offense. Still, that shouldn’t take away from an otherwise awesome performance from Lowry, who provided two all-time moments with his inbound pass in Game 3, and with his turnaround jumper in Game 6. The championship elevated the entire organization, and none more so than for Lowry, who proved yet again that he is the most important player on the team.
Brad Fay and Alvin Williams break down the Toronto Raptors Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics, saying that forcing turnovers was a key to the series, and to not worry too much about the play of Pascal Siakam.
With their rash of turnovers throughout the game, the Raptors gave the Celtics every chance to run away with the game but Toronto still had a good chance at tying the game with under 30 seconds to go and down three. So what happened? The NBA on TSN panel breaks down the final moments that saw a discombobulated sequence and touch on Pascal Siakam’s tough series.
Some games, you catalogue all the little things, because in some games the difference between teams is so small, and every play matters. This felt like another one of those. The Raptors turned the ball over too many times. They looked tired. Marc Gasol was in tough, and Kyle Lowry didn’t have a 30-point game in him.
Which means they needed Pascal Siakam. The Raptors fought back when they fell behind, over and over: 12 points, nine, nine again. They fought. But Siakam couldn’t be what they needed. His regular-season scoring arsenal shrunk; he turned the ball over, and over, and over. His entire time in Orlando, he just wasn’t close to his regular-season self. Lowry tried to save them late, and pulled Toronto within two in the final minute.
Lowry fouled out. Norm Powell missed a key box-out. Down three, Fred VanVleet took the shot that could have tied it, but it was partially blocked by Grant Williams, and that was it.
They couldn’t score enough. Siakam will regret how he handled his pandemic, which left him out of basketball shape in every way. Jayson Tatum is his comparison, and he delivered a calm, precise blade of a game, with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Siakam had 13, 11, five turnovers. All you can say is Siakam better than this, and has to use it as fuel.
The Celtics were a nightmare matchup, as it turned out: long and talented, well-coached and tough. The Raptors had to expend so much just to reach this game. The buzzer-beater by OG Anunoby in Game 3, which was a Kyle Lowry Hall of Fame game, the double-overtime classic in Game 6, which was another.
And they lost, and what’s left is a team you should cherish in a broken year. The players have trudged back and forth to their rooms in the Orlando compound. Sometimes they found themselves wandering around in the middle of the night, their routines disrupted, trapped and confined, unable to sleep. As one participant put it, referring to a crisis of spirit, you never know when bubble life will get you.
The NBA Draft
The 2020 NBA Draft was originally rescheduled for Oct. 16, but it appears as though it will be pushed back even further, potentially to Nov. 18.
Whenever the draft is, the Raptors will have two picks: No. 29 and No. 59.
Our draft expert, Eric Fawcett, has already written about five players the Raptors should target with their first round pick and some second round sleepers they could be in the market for should they hold onto their picks.
What they expect to happen in free agency with some of their key players – more on that below – could further shape the moves the Raptors make in the draft.
This is the big one.
As of right now, teams will be able to negotiate with free agents starting at 6:00 p.m. ET on Oct. 18. Time will tell if that date is also pushed back.
For the Raptors, they have several players hitting free agency this offseason: Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will each be unrestricted free agents, meaning they can sign with any team in the league, whereas Chris Boucher, Malcolm Miller and Oshae Brissett will be restricted free agents, meaning the Raptors will have the option of matching any offer sheet they sign.
Additionally, Stanley Johnson has a $3.8 million player option in his contract for next season, which he’s given no indication on whether or not he intends to pick it up as of this writing. (The most likely outcome? He picks it up).
It’s safe to assume that re-signing VanVleet will be the priority for the Raptors. Now in his fourth season, VanVleet started in all 54 games he appeared in this season and posted career highs across the board with 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals while leading the league with 4.2 deflections per game. Kyle Lowry is still under contract for one more season, but VanVleet has positioned himself well to carry the torch from the six-time All-Star whenever that day comes.