Kyle Lowry just had his best season ever – career highs in points, field goal shooting, 3-point shooting and rebounds. The 31-year old Lowry is going to opt-out of the final year of his contract in hopes of one final monster deal, something in the neighborhood of what Al Horford got from the Celtics last summer.
But will Lowry’s big deal be with Toronto?
Down 0-2 to the Cavs, the Raptors seem to have regressed despite going all-in this season, acquiring PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka mid-season in hopes of finding the right offensive and defensive combination for LeBron James.
So far, so bad.
Last year in this same spot, the Cavs won the first two handily before losing the next two. But the Raptors lost games 5 and 6 by a combined 64 points and were done.
Two reasons the Raptors could move on from Lowry:
1) Will they want to commit a 5th year to Lowry? That would mean he’ll be getting in the neighborhood of $35 million when he’s 36 years old. He’s a 6-foot point guard who has battled injuries over the last couple seasons.
Remember the Al Horford situation in Atlanta last summer: He had several 4-year max offers from teams. The Hawks had an advantage: They could offer a 5th year at max salary. The problem is they didn’t want to max him out in the 5th year. According to Woj, the two sides were $6 million apart. Horford choose Boston.
What if the Raptors decide they similarly don’t want to max out Lowry in the 5th year, when they’re bidding against nobody for a 36-year old point guard?
2) If not Lowry, what’s the backup plan? The Raptors have three expiring contracts on the books: PJ Tucker, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson. They’re heavily committed to DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, and have two more years of DeMarre Carroll. Locking you into Lowry essentially eliminates flexibility for a few years. Your options at point guard would be capable reserve Cory Joseph, and 2015 1st round pick Delon Wright.
Not to go back to the Hawks, but they won 60 games in 2015, and then were swept by LeBron. They won 48 games the following year … and once again, were swept by LeBron. In 2017, only one starter remained from that very good 2015 Atlanta team: Paul Millsap. Yet they still won 43 games this year and made the playoffs. They’re rebuilding around a younger core, and didn’t overpay for Horford.
The Raptors have essentially had the same core for four seasons, and won 48, 49, 56 and this year 51 games. The Celtics passed them. After two games, I’ve seen nothing that leads me to believe they’re going to get by LeBron.
The keys to staying in the playoffs for teams like Atlanta and Toronto are drafting well (Atlanta hit a home run with Dennis Schroeder, and Taurean Prince looks like a keeper) and trading wisely (Tim Hardaway was a big win). Toronto and Atlanta are going to be hard-pressed to sign A-list free agents.
I know it’s tough to say just walk away from Lowry’s 21-6-4 (let’s leave his postseason struggles out of this). And DeRozan, who is 27, may not be thrilled to take a step back at this stage.
But unless something dramatically changes in this series against the Cavs, the best offseason long-term move for the Toronto Raptors might be to let Lowry accept a max offer from a team like the Kings, the 76ers, the Magic – and not overpay. They’re still a playoff team without him, and just as important, they maintain salary cap flexibility for years to come.