Hope is a powerful force. It can carry a person through the darkest of times by offering a glimmer of light which opens up infinite possibilities. It can provide reason for action (or inaction) by giving you a view to a possibility. That possibility, however low its probability, allows one to shape their thinking, their views, their lives and ultimately their death. When this happens at a subconscious level over many years you end up paying psychologists and psychiatrists to uncover what the rationale for your actions and beliefs are, and upon expensive probing it reveals nothing more than an undying hope for something or someone.
Dialing that thought back and applying it to our present circumstance it is fair to say that when Giannis Antetokounmpo re-signed with the Bucks, it extinguished a hope and colored the upcoming season in a considerably different light. The bridge-year-to-Giannis storyline that we told ourselves is gone. Though there’s always a possibility of a trade it’s more fantasy than anything. This leaves us searching for other storylines.
Oren Weisfeld’s piece covered where the Raptors stand without Giannis and the future remains bright. There is no reason to believe the Raptors won’t be competitive with their current roster for years to come even if they solely rely on organic development and the draft. The ceiling for this roster isn’t terribly how but neither is the floor. The strategy of pouncing on an opportunity like the one presented in 2018 by Kawhi Leonard is a reasonable one, and to be in play for that the franchise needs to have marketable assets. They have those in spades.
That is the main difference between this incarnation of the Raptors compared to previous ones. Even though the win totals and league position in the early days of the Lowry/DeRozan, or going further back Bosh/Bargnani era was respectable, those rosters lacked the ability to scale up. There weren’t any pieces beyond the top two players that warranted any valuable return on the market. The main criticisms of those teams was that they were on a road to nowhere because they were stuck in the doldrums of mediocrity. It’s flawed to suggest the same here because they have the ability to maneuver significantly while retaining their top players.
The roster is also far more aligned with the zeitgeist. The isolation-heavy nature of leading players which led to predictability has been replaced with team-oriented basketball with a defensive doctrine. This makes for far greater sustainability in the face of continually changing landscapes. The Nets have set up for their push, the Celtics will build on the season before, Miami’s trying to be the new Toronto in terms of dark horses, and even the Sixers aren’t looking shabby.
The Raptors are in a position to both compete in this environment and ride it out. That is especially unique about this roster because they don’t necessarily have a traditional window of contention, but are more ready to contend when the opportunity presents itself. One of those opportunities was Giannis which didn’t materialize but that’s just one. There will be more on the horizon and the Raptors are about as well-positioned as anyone to go up a notch. This may happen entirely organically through Siakam, Anunoby, VanVleet etc., but if it doesn’t it’s not the end of the world. So even though we’re probably set up to be a team whose regular season success may not match its playoff accomplishments (much like last season), you feel much better about it because the plan is sustainable beyond just aiming for a narrow shot at the title in a particular year.
Then there’s Kyle Lowry. People seem to be wondering “what to do” with Kyle Lowry as if he’s some remnant of the past that needs to be dealt with so we move on to the next era. I understand that perspective and the franchise has several obvious options which they can execute at any point. The relationship between Kyle Lowry and the Raptors is so unique that there is no franchise precedent on how to act in this situation, and the only thing you can be sure of is that it’ll be handled with grace.
Lowry can make the difference between a first-round exit and an Eastern Finals berth this season. He is the team’s best ball-handler, most creative playmaker, a lethal three-point shooter and an excellent defender. He’s having a greater impact at age 32-34 than he did between 28-32. It is not because of Lowry that the Raptors lost to the Celtics – he averaged 21 points and 6.5 assists against a top defensive team while the Raptors primary option, Pascal Siakam, was null and void on offense and not attracting extra defenders.
Beyond his oncourt presence he can have a tremendous impact on Malachi Flynn’s development. Though there are merits to the argument that the Raptors should get something for Lowry on the market, it is equally plausible to extend him so he mentors the youth and possibly even transitions much further down the road into a coaching capacity. Lowry is a continuous learner – he has adapted by reinventing himself to meet the occasion and has far more to give (and receive) from this organization. His Raptors career does not need to end with his playing career.
The likely scenario is that we have to say goodbye to Kyle Lowry at some point but what makes it harder to let go is that I actually enjoy watching him play more now than I ever have. You’re able to see what he’s thinking on the floor much more clearly, whether it be positioning himself for a charge, stepping back on the screen or contemplating a pass. He’s a player who has always struggled to hide his intentions and emotions, and it’s in the later years of his career that we’re able to see both plainly. I think it’s what they meant when they said “he wears his heart on his sleeve”.
Kyle Lowry’s future may be uncertain and the end near, but the romance is at its peak.