March 10, 2021
The Toronto Raptors are expected to hold onto Kyle Lowry through the March 25th trade deadline, according to a new report from Raptors reporter Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet. If true, it would be a big blow for the Sixers as they pursue an impact player to help boost their chances in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
While every report about players coming and going this time of year must always be taken with a grain of salt, Grange is a trustworthy source on all things Toronto. He is unequivocal in his stance — the Raptors will not be moving their title-winner this season:
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s start here: Lowry is not going to be dealt before the March 25 trade deadline. [Sportsnet]
Okay, so that's pretty certain language. What about the idea that Lowry has been angling to leave, something Lowry himself pushed back against in a recent Instagram story? What about Lowry selling his house in Toronto recently, a move many took as a sign that he was on the way out? Grange went directly to Lowry's agent on those matters, and Mark Bartelstein supplied him with plenty of ammunition:
That place was vacant and just sitting there, so there’s nothing to read into that at all,” Lowry’s agent Mark Bartelstein said. “That’s a residue of the pandemic.
“It’s frustrating from our perspective. A story comes out that Kyle’s told everybody he’s out. That’s just blatantly not true,” said Bartelstein. “It’s just 1,000 percent not true. Are there a lot of teams around the NBA that want Kyle? Yeah, who wouldn’t want an all-star point guard. There are certainly teams that know that he’s in the last year of his deal and this is the time of year where every team is talking to every team about a lot of things, and there’s a lot of people that would love to get Kyle Lowry, but his focus right now is on winning for the Toronto Raptors.
“He has clearly not told anybody that he wants out of Toronto. Masai and Bobby and I talk all the time. You can never put anything in concrete in this business, things change, but there is literally nothing to all this chatter about Kyle wanting out or telling his team he wants to go there. That’s just not true.” [Sportsnet]
Posturing at the trade deadline usually comes from executives who will hand over a few juicy quotes to reporters in order to create confusion and draw the right sort of attention to players they're willing to deal or deal for. Maybe it's just an agent trying to make his client look good, but that can usually be accomplished without a public and forceful denial like this one.
This one matters a bit more because of the broader context to a potential Lowry deal. From the moment Lowry rumors began to pop up this season, the same note was echoed each time: Toronto isn't moving on without Lowry pushing them to do so. As we've noted in this space several times when Lowry's name has come up, he is on the Mt. Rushmore of Raptors players in the franchise's young history, the sort of player you do not trade for the sake of doing so even at his advanced age.
The Raptors have been a markedly better team following a 2-8 start to the season, and as the Heat showed during last year's bubble playoffs, maybe we should be preparing for weirdness in this year's postseason. A team like the Raptors could enter the playoffs as a middling seed and still do serious damage, with the gains of homecourt advantage likely minimal until arenas are full again, something that still seems to be a distant possibility.
Lowry being off the market, however, would be a big blow for the Sixers. The Philadelphia native would have been a clean fit for this group in every way other than age, but he also represented a (theoretical) middle ground of trade acquisition between a franchise-altering deal for a star and the sort of depth deals they've been connected to for weeks now.
He would not have come cheap, mind you, but Lowry's age brought his trade price down a bit compared to, say, Zach LaVine or Bradley Beal, with Lowry still offering significant value/impact in the short-term. Beyond that, Lowry's hometown roots also seemed to give them a good chance to sign him on a reasonable deal beyond this season had they gotten the job done. Middle ground options are pretty scarce at this stage — you're probably either going star-hunting or trying to assemble enough depth pieces to round out the bench.
Where do they turn now? Lowry is far from the only player they've been connected to, with reports tying them to an assortment of players ranging from Nemanja Bjelica to Will Barton. The only certainty at this stage is that they're actively working the phones and trying to find an impact player or two to give their MVP candidate and his two primary co-stars a better chance to chase a title.
I wouldn't go as far as Grange does and declare this one over with, because anybody can be had for the right price with the right amount of persistence. Morey has spoken with absolute certainty when asked about his team's chances to contend this season, and while he has been known to keep people guessing with his public stances vs. his private ones, chatter has been consistent for months that he is trying to put this team over the top. The push to trade for James Harden was the most prominent example, but Morey has not rested on his laurels on a moment since making an important pair of trades on draft night.
This is a noteworthy development all the same, and it appears the Sixers are much more likely to face Lowry as an opponent than count him among their ranks in the playoffs.
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