May 08, 2017
On Monday morning, a day after watching his team get swept out of the second round of the NBA playoffs, veteran point guard Kyle Lowry announced that he has decided to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Toronto Raptors, meaning that he will soon become a free agent.
Expected as it was, Kyle Lowry made it official this AM in Toronto, telling local reporters: "I will be opting out" to become a free agent— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 8, 2017
The Philly native, who signed a four-year, $48 million deal in 2014 and made his third straight NBA All-Star Game in 2017, is coming off the best statistical season of his 11-year career. He averaged 22.4 points, 7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 41.2 pct. from three. All of those are career highs with the exception of his assists per game, although he only topped that number once.
Unfortunately for Lowry, this season not only ended abruptly on Sunday night, but also ended with him watching from the bench due to a sprained ankle. He also appeared in just 60 games, his fewest in a full season since his rookie year.
Now that he's a free agent, where Lowry, 31, takes his talents next are completely up to him – sort of.
Even if he wants to return to Toronto, where he can make the most money thanks to his Bird Rights, they would still need to decide whether or not they want him at what could be a restrictive price tag.
Here's more from Zach Lowe of ESPN.com:
The Raptors enter a pivotal offseason with clarity. They just have to decide what to do about it. ...
What they won't do: Bring back this same group. Doing so would vault them at least $30 million over the luxury tax, for a total bill of something like $250 million. You don't pay that for a noncontender. ...
Everything starts with Lowry, Toronto's best player, and one of the most important in franchise history. Toronto can offer Lowry a five-year, $200 million-plus deal; rivals can offer only four-year deals starting at the same maximum annual salary of around $35 million. [GM Masai] Ujiri has always erred on the side of retaining players, even if it's just to trade them later -- as he famously did with Nene Hilario in Denver. [espn.com]
According to Lowe, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan wants Lowry back in Toronto next year, but added that he won't put pressure on his backcourt partner, much like he did the last time Lowry was a free agent.
But that's going to cost the Raptors, who have other considerations on their roster, like paying forward Serge Ibaka. But as Lowe points out, if Ujiri doesn't want to pay Lowry, then there's almost no reason to re-sign Ibaka. Without the cap exception they'd get for bringing Lowry back, Toronto wouldn't have enough money to replace him with another comparable player to go alongside DeRozan and Ibaka.
Instead, the Raptors could opt to blow it all up and start from scratch. After being swept out by the Cavs in the second round, albeit without Lowry at 100 percent, there's reason for Ujiri to believe that his team needs a massive overhaul before it can truly compete for an NBA title. Furthermore, the Raptors actually tried to do this in 2014 when they traded Rudy Gay and tried to do the same to Lowry before a deal with the Knicks fell through.
In the three seasons since, however, the Toronto backcourt duo evolved into one of the best in the league. But as we've learned the last few years, two players isn't enough to get it done in the current NBA. Hell, three might not even be enough anymore (unless one of them is named LeBron James).
So what does that mean for Lowry, a veteran point guard on the wrong side of 30, and his future in Canada?
In order to keep him, the Raptors likely will have to offer him a max deal or something close to one. And that's going to cost them.
Here's a look at what a max deal for Lowry would look like in Toronto compared to what it would look like if he signed anywhere else in the league.
|YEAR||RAPTORS||REST OF NBA|
But when it comes to the Raptors re-signing Lowry, it's slightly more complicated than just deciding whether or not their point guard is worth that money, especially given what's been outlined above.
The Raptors would be right to feel queasy offering Lowry the full boat. He is 31, with some nicks and bruises. Point guards don't tend to age well. Ibaka is younger, and will probably get around $20 million per season on his next contract -- much less than Lowry.
Play hardball with Lowry, and he might leave -- just like Al Horford bolted Atlanta after the Hawks haggled over that dicey fifth season. Lowry's a prickly, proud dude, and he will have suitors -- including his hometown Sixers. He signed what turned out to be a wildly below-market contract in 2014, and he (justifiably) wants to be paid as a franchise guy. He led the sad-sack Raptors out of the sullen Andrea Bargnani era, to places where they had never been. [espn.com]
If you didn't read the rest of that and just saw the words in bold, I don't entirely blame you. The idea of Lowry, who played high school ball at Cardinal Dougherty and then in college at Villanova, returning to his hometown will surely get Sixers fans excited, even if it's a long shot.
The Sixers need guards! They need veterans! They have plenty of cap space!
All three of those things are true. And all three also suggest, at least on the surface, that Lowry would be a good match. But as our own Rich Hofmann recently outlined, once you scratch the surface, it seems like a less-than-ideal fit.
• They’re likely going to draft a guard: If the Sixers draft a guard (Fultz, Ball, Fox, Monk, Smith, Ntilikina), spending on Lowry doesn’t make sense because they would play a similar role. And as the “Ben Simmons, point guard” experience gets underway, you would have to look at the potential bang for your buck even if Lowry is adept at playing off the ball. ...
• The Sixers have a much younger timeline than Lowry: They aren’t ready to win big yet, and when you sign a 31-year-old point guard for four years, his best seasons will almost assuredly be his first two. There is the possibility that Lowry falls off a cliff by the last two seasons when the Sixers would really need him. ...
• What are the long-term salary cap ramifications? This is the most important consideration. In the best-case scenario, the Sixers have two offseasons before Joel Embiid is due for an extension and the youngsters start to become pretty expensive. Even if the cap jumps to $120 million by 2020, a 35-year-old Lowry would be taking up one-third of your space. What does his signing prevent you from doing in the following years?
Of course, if Lowry wanted to give the Sixers a hometown discount, that would change things. But given where he is in his career, it's reasonable to think that Lowry wants one of two things (although both would be preferable): to win a ring and to get paid.
Right now, the Sixers can't offer him as much money as Toronto. And while they may be ready to contend before a potential four-year deal in Philly would expire, there will be plenty of other teams – teams much closer to winning, perhaps San Antonio – also interested in Lowry.
It's a long shot, but it's still fun to think about ... as long as you don't think too hard.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
Like the new PhillyVoice Sports Facebook page.