NBA Free Agency: Everything you need to know about Kyle Lowry rejoining Raptors
Questions still abound in Toronto, but at least the front office has a clear sense of direction for the next three years
Kyle Lowry 's Players' Tribune essay, published on Sunday, wasn't nearly as entertaining as fellow Philadelphia native Dion Waiters ' instant classic from April. For the Toronto Raptors , however, the announcement he will return could hardly be more significant. Lowry, whose new deal is worth a reported three years and $100 million, is the biggest reason the Raptors have made the playoffs the last four years and established themselves as a stable organization. This summer, with his future up in the air, was an inflection point for the franchise.
Had Lowry left, the front office would have at least had to consider a full rebuild. Now that he's staying, it will continue to try to construct a championship-level roster. In his essay, Lowry wrote that he believes this can happen "sooner than later." We'll have to see on that one. Here are three things you need to know about the deal:
Why three years?
It's a compromise. Toronto could have gone as high as five years and $201 million, the contract that Stephen Curry agreed to as soon as free agency officially started. If Lowry had more options -- and thus more leverage -- then it presumably would have had to give him four years. At 31 years old, he decided to sacrifice some long-term security for a higher per-year salary.
This will allow Lowry to chase a ring after this contract if the Raptors are still not true contenders. From their perspective, it's about having flexibility in the summer of 2020 and having a clear sense of direction until then. As long as Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both in the picture, they are going to go for it. There is a clear three-year window here, and if things don't break right, they will be able to push the reset button after that. As much as they wanted to retain their best player, they were rightly reluctant to commit to a contract that would pay him $40 million in the 2021-22 season, or even one that would pay him $30 million-plus the year before that.
Why didn't Lowry have more leverage?
Timing. Through no fault of his own, Lowry wound up being a free agent in a market where only a select group of teams needed a point guard. Leading up to free agency, there were reports and rumors that the Houston Rockets were interested in reuniting with him. They traded for Chris Paul . His hometown Philadelphia 76ers , another potential suitor, drafted Markelle Fultz. The Minnesota Timberwolves signed Jeff Teague , the San Antonio Spurs re-signed Patty Mills , the Sacramento Kings drafted De'Aaron Fox, the Dallas Mavericks drafted Dennis Smith and the Utah Jazz traded for Ricky Rubio . Where was he supposed to go?
Through the lens of Lowry's production, his new contract is completely reasonable. In a way, though, the fact he got as much as he did out of Toronto is impressive. There just were not a lot of options out there, especially for a player who wanted to be on a winning team. Just look at free agent George Hill , an excellent and versatile two-way point guard, languishing in no man's land. His best play might be taking a one-year deal and trying again next summer. As for guys like Derrick Rose , Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison , well, no one knows what will happen.
So, same old Raptors, then?
For now, probably. In fact, they could take a bit of a step back, depending on the way the rest of the offseason plays out. They lost the tough-as-nails P.J. Tucker to the Rockets, and there's no guarantee they'll re-sign glue guy Patrick Patterson , either. With Lowry and Serge Ibaka 's on the books, they will owe $24.1 million in luxury-tax payments, per ESPN's Bobby Marks. Ujiri has some work to do.
Backup guard Cory Joseph 's name has already appeared in rumors, which is logical since he has a player option after next season and his replacement, Delon Wright , is already on the roster. He's only making $7.6 million next season, however -- the real savings only come in if Toronto can move Jonas Valanciunas and/or DeMarre Carroll . If either of those things were easy, they'd be done by now.
This is not to say that all the Raptors will do this summer is keep Lowry and Ibaka, lose role players and regress. If they're able to send Valanciunas elsewhere, then simply having Ibaka starting at center for a full season could be a massive difference-maker. Beyond that, the Eastern Conference is arguably worse than ever now that Paul George , Jimmy Butler and (probably) Paul Millsap are no longer around. If Toronto's young players, including promising rookie OG Anunoby, can contribute, then perhaps there won't be much of a drop-off. Patterson is important, though, and Ujiri will need to get creative in order to trim the tax bill if he comes back. Such is life under the restrictive NBA salary cap with $248 million tied up in three players over the next three years.
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