NEW YORK -- Four times times during this interview, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry laughed before the question was even finished. The mere mention of a possible career as a coach elicited one such response.
"I couldn't deal with nobody like me," Lowry told CBS Sports. "That's why I respect [coach Dwane Casey] so much: Because he's dealing with guys that have different individual personalities and he's able to coexist with everyone and make everyone love him. That's why I believe he's one of the best coaches I've ever had."
Lowry is a four-time All-Star largely because of his basketball brain. He has been described as stubborn, hardheaded and a know-it-all, but no one has ever doubted his intelligence. Early in Lowry's Raptors tenure -- the point guard is now in his sixth season with the team -- Casey joked that he couldn't wait for him to become a coach. Casey told him he wanted to attend his practices and boo him from the stands.
Indeed, Lowry has thought about moving to the sidelines. He surely has the mind for it. He does not, however, have the patience.
"I would be a very demanding coach," Lowry said. "I wouldn't yell and scream, but I want players that want what I want. And that's why I couldn't coach, 'cause I know how hard it is and I know how hard I want you to play. But everyone's not going to do what I want."
A couple hours before saying that, during the second quarter of a 116-102 win over the Brooklyn Nets, Lowry's style of leadership showed itself in a most public manner. Toronto's Delon Wright missed a rotation, allowing Nets sharpshooter Allen Crabbe a clean look at a 3-pointer, and Lowry gestured at Wright as if the younger guard had watched his dog defecate on the street and kept on walking.
Lowry continued haranguing Wright as DeMar DeRozan brought the ball across halfcourt. The conversation continued well into the Raptors' ensuing timeout.
Despite the range on his jumper, in spirit Lowry is more Draymond Green than Stephen Curry. He has been called Toronto's heart and soul so many times that it is beyond cliche. For , now first in the East and winners of 18 of 19 games before stumbling on Sunday, he has sacrificed minutes and touches, but remains vital to the operation.
"He don't give a damn," DeRozan told CBS Sports. "Not in a malicious way. But he just don't give a damn. He going to go out there and risk it all. He's going to tell you whatever needs to be told to you, whether you like it or not. And to have that mentality and not use it in a malicious way is definitely beneficial. Everybody don't have that. That's what makes Kyle who he is."
A question about individual success elicited another laugh. At the 2016 Olympic Games, Lowry won a gold medal with Team USA, an accomplishment few could have fathomed when he was drafted No. 24 overall 10 years earlier or backing up Jose Calderon during his first season in Toronto. In the Raptors' new offense, his scoring average has dropped by six points. Thanks to the emergence of their young players, that number might never rise again.
"I always wanted to be an All-Star," Lowry said. "I love being an All-Star and continue to want to be an All-Star because that just shows you my talent and who I am. But I've always been a team player. I've always been a team guy. I understood even in college, when you win as a team, everyone gets their own accolades, individual accolades."
This season, Lowry is averaging 32 minutes, down from the career-high 37.4 he averaged last season. He is attempting 12.2 field goals per game, the lowest number since that rocky first season in Toronto. He is running far fewer pick-and-rolls than he did before. After admitting this adjustment was not easy, Lowry has learned how to be effective in this faster-paced, movement-oriented system. Since the All-Star break, he has a true shooting percentage of 65.7 percent, slightly better than the career high of 62.3 percent he set last season.
Lowry was willing to try something new because the old way wasn't working in the playoffs and he sees the big picture. While this season has seen Casey's coaching staff completely change Toronto's style, Lowry's usage rate took a slight dip last season, too -- a result of DeRozan's. Fourteen months ago, he told CBS Sports he was happy to yield some playmaking responsibility to his backcourt partner.
"I don't mind being a second fiddle," Lowry said back then. "I don't mind that. I don't care whatever happens, whatever helps my team get a championship is what I want to do. Whatever helps my team win is what I want to do. And if it takes DeMar shooting 25 times a game, whatever he's shooting, it doesn't matter. If we're winning games, it doesn't matter. I just feel like if you win, no one looks at what happens or how it happened. You won. That's all that matters."
Lowry knows that the last five years have been the best stretch in Raptors franchise history. He knows they've never won 60 games in a season. He knows they had only won one playoff series -- in 2001 -- before their turbulent trip to the conference finals two years ago. Wary of talking Toronto up prematurely, Lowry refuses to say whether or not he believes this is the best team for which he has ever played. It is obvious, though, that there is an opportunity in front of the Raptors, and he understands the significance of bringing the NBA Finals to the Air Canada Centre.
"It means a lot," Lowry said. "I want to get there. It means I really want to get there. We'll see what happens when we get there; if we get there, it'll be a great thing for the country."
A question about Lowry's style elicited another laugh. "No," he said, he did not have a phase in his basketball life where he worked on flashy moves, even when he was a kid and the AND1 Mixtape Tour was popular. "Hell no. I couldn't. It would be terrible. It would be terrible, so I never tried it."
Lowry's skills are undeniable but not awe-inspiring. His handles are meant to get him from Point A to Point B, not to break ankles. He entered the league 12 years ago as a rugged defender who bulldozed his way to the basket, and, rather than abandoning that identity, he built on it. He improved first as a 3-point shooter in Houston, then as a floor general in Toronto, but he does not need to score 20 points to affect the outcome of a game.
As the NBA has evolved, Lowry has become even more of an analytics darling, launching off-the-dribble 3s with great volume and efficiency. Still, perhaps his greatest quality is that he looks for little edges, fighting for every inch of space he gets. You see it when he annoys opposing guards on the perimeter, boxes out bigger guys on the inside and routinely sacrifices his body.
Traditional statistics typically do not capture this kind of thing, but the NBA now tracks hustle stats. Unsurprisingly, Lowry leads the Raptors in deflections and loose balls recovered. He also leads the entire league in charges drawn, despite being listed at 6-foot-0.
"That's why we took the minutes down," Lowry joked. "I'm never going to stop doing it because it helps."
Toronto swingman C.J. Miles told CBS Sports what he most appreciates about Lowry is the same now as it was before they were teammates: how hard he plays.
"He's everywhere," Miles said. "He's a pit bull. He attacks everybody. He treats everybody like they're either food or they're in front of his food. That's the way it should be, though. You want your leader to be like that. You want the guy in the frontline, in the trenches, to be a dog, to have that fight in him and to lead by example. Because young guys see him, who has been in the league for 11, 12 years now -- he does that for 30-something minutes, why can't I do that for 15?"
A question about the media elicited another laugh. A Cleveland Cavaliers -- a series in which Lowry was sidelined with an ankle injury after Game 2 -- there was no shortage of experts calling for the Raptors to break up their core. Now that they are rolling, some of those same voices are singing their praises., Lowry showed up to media day looking like a new (and significantly skinnier) man, telling reporters that he reads everything that has been written about him, including the pieces that were critical of his playoff performance. After last season's second-round sweep at the hands of the
"Let's put it this way: When it comes to that type of stuff, media can always be wrong," Lowry said. "They always can say, 'I'm sorry, I was wrong.' That's their jobs, though. I don't criticize anybody for writing anything. I don't care. The media is going to write what they're going to write. Everyone's going to say what they're going to say. Everyone's going to have their own opinion. Right? As a pro, you take it and you look at it and you can hold onto it or you can just laugh at it."
As zen as that sounds, Lowry acknowledged that it "bothers me sometimes" when outsiders shortchange or dismiss Toronto and its players. "Everything fuels me," he said, adding that he will "never be satisfied with who I am and what I am as a player." It is nothing new for Lowry to hear about him or his team having a ceiling, but he believes he can always continue to grow. Despite all the talk about past playoff failures and what might happen this May, he insisted his teammates make it easy to stay in the moment.
More than at any other point in his career, Lowry seems comfortable in his own skin. He signed a three-year, $100 million contract last summer, and he will turn 32 on Sunday. No longer is he a fringe star trying to establish himself as a top-tier point guard and no longer does he need to worry about changing his "uncoachable" reputation. It has been years -- October 2014 in Wichita, Kan., to be exact -- since he and DeRozan went out for an ill-advised, 3 a.m. McDonald's run. As much has been written about his maturation, though, he is fundamentally the same fiery guy he has always been.
"I think you can't be afraid to be different," Lowry said. "And be brash. And be rubbing people the wrong way. You can't be afraid to do it. You can't be afraid to have a great opinion and be strong-minded in what you believe in. I think I've always been that type of player. Some people didn't like it, but it's gotten me to a good point so far."
These attributes might not bode well for a coaching career, but Lowry is not worried about that. All he wants to do is take the Raptors where they've never been before.