When the Raptors signed Kyle Lowry to a one-year, $30 million extension following their 2019 NBA championship, speculation immediately began as to whether this was a contract designed to make Lowry a more attractive trade target given he would be under team control through the 2021 season.
Here we are in the 2021 season.
The Raptors hung on to Lowry last season and were once again an upper-echelon team. This season hasn't gone as well. The Raptors got off to a treacherous start and enter play on Thursday with a 16-17 record, good enough for the current No. 5 seed in the top-heavy Eastern Conference but nowhere near meaningful contention.
There's an argument that Toronto could look to be a buyer at the deadline and add a piece for another potential playoff run, but with Lowry set to turn 35 years old in March and on an expiring deal, the Raptors could also be inclined to cash out of the Lowry business while they're ahead. Rather than face the dilemma of resigning him this summer or lose him for nothing, the Raptors could trade the franchise icon while his value remains relatively high.
The latter scenario makes too much sense for Lowry trade rumors not to start surfacing at this point in the calendar. On Friday night, Lowry's agent, Mark Bartelstein, went on SiriusXM Radio and proclaimed the Philadelphia Inquirer's report from earlier in the day that had a potential Lowry deal cooking between Toronto and the Sixers to be exactly that, a rumor, and an unfounded one at that.
"A lot of the rumors and things that are written about, are just ... that's just what they are is just rumors and they're designed for people to click on the article. ...That happened today with Kyle Lowry. There was a story today that he's pushing to go to Philadelphia. That's just not true. That story came out today, and so I had to get on the phone with [Raptors president] Masai [Ujiri] and [general manager] Bobby [Webster] and make sure they knew that certainly wasn't coming from us."
So let's start with the obvious here: A lot of the sports news you read or hear comes from agents. They absolutely want certain things printed and talked about. It stands to reason, too, that there are certain things they don't want talked about, at least not at certain points in a discussion. Either way, their motivation is always to create leverage for their client.
Now to the actual report, which came from a Keith Pompey, a trustworthy reporter. Nowhere in his article did Pompey write that Lowry was, or is, "pushing to go to Philadelphia," as Bartelstein suggested. Below is exactly what Pompey wrote:
Kyle Lowry would be a perfect fit for the 76ers.
The same can be said about the Miami Heat. The best spot for the Philly native and Toronto Raptors point guard, however, is the Los Angeles Clippers.
According to sources, those three teams could become potential trade destinations for the former Cardinal Dougherty High School and Villanova standout. That is, of course, if Lowry opts to not finish the season with the Raptors.
A source said Lowry would like to be in Philly. The source believes the Sixers and Raptors might be able to get something done. But if it comes to that, Toronto would most likely want some picks, young players, and veterans with expiring contracts for Lowry, who's making $30 million this season.
Lowry "would be" a perfect fit for the 76ers. This is true. Lowry would also make sense for the Heat and Clippers. True. Those teams "could" become potential trade destinations for Lowry "if" he doesn't stay in Toronto. Finally, Lowry "would like to be in Philly" and the Sixers and Raptors "might be able to get something done."
The one part of this that could, perhaps, be construed as Lowry pushing for a trade to the Sixers is Pompey stating that Lowry would like to be in Philly. He's not saying Lowry is pushing for that. What he's saying is that "if" Lowry were to leave Toronto, which, by the way, is something that could benefit the Raptors as much as it could Lowry, quite obviously Philadelphia would be a desirable landing spot. It's his hometown.
Pompey finished his reporting by stating the Raptors "want to reward Lowry for his years of service by helping him secure an opportunity to win another NBA title." This, to me, sounds more like the Raptors wanting to trade Lowry than Lowry being the one pushing for anything, only with the classy caveat that they will, or want to, do their franchise icon the honor of not sending him somewhere he doesn't want to go.
It's very reasonable, then, that this is all stuff that is being talked about behind closed doors, and for Bartelstein's liking, it was just too early in the process for anything to go public. There are a hundred ways this could hurt leverage one way or another. It could simply be about an agent not wanting his client to be painted in a negative light as a guy who's demanding a trade, even though that is the furthest thing from what Pompey reported.
Again, let's stick with the sourced information that Pompey -- a respected and plugged-in reporter in the Philadelphia hoops world, where Lowry clearly has a lot of connections -- actually reported. The Raptors might consider trading Lowry, which is almost not even news given the situation, and if they do, the Sixers, Clippers and Heat have emerged as potential partners, with Philly being somewhere Lowry would like to end up "if" any of this comes to fruition.
Getting past the agent speak, let's actually talk basketball here. If a trade were to go down, from the Sixers' standpoint, Lowry makes perfect sense. More 3-point shooting and a perimeter playmaker are their two biggest, and perhaps only, holes.
To make the money work, while presumably taking Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Seth Curry (who's just too valuable as a shooter to give up) off the table, Philly would have to start any trade package with Danny Green and Mike Scott, who are both on expiring deals and make $20 million combined. From there, Philadelphia could add Terrance Ferguson and rookie Tyrese Maxey, who would be the young asset Toronto is looking to acquire.
Whether the Raptors would prefer Maxey or future draft picks, or both, as the core compensation for Lowry, the makings of a deal are there. As for the Clippers, Lou Williams and Patrick Patterson are on expiring deals and could be the foundation of the money, though more would have to be added. But the Clippers lack a young asset as attractive as Maxey, depending on what you think of Terance Mann. They would have to build the package around picks, but as a championship contender, those are going to be picks in the late 20s that only carry so much value.
Miami can make the money work very easily. Either Meyers Leonard or Kelly Olynyk and Andre Iguodala (team option for 2021-22) get it done. As for the young asset, no way are the Heat trading Tyler Herro for Lowry. Duncan Robinson, perhaps, could be an option, or rookie big man Precious Achiuwa.
To me, the Heat can make the best offer with Robinson and a pick. But Maxey is really intriguing, and if Philly is where Lowry prefers to go if he is indeed traded, and it's true that Toronto will err on the side of doing right by Lowry (which there is every reason to believe they will do for a guy who's had the kind of impact on their franchise that Lowry has), the Sixers certainly make a lot of sense.