Flash back one season. As a poor, pathetic, huddled mass, we banded together in our collective hopes of re-signing Lowry. We fretted about pesky suitors. We didn’t like seeing the likes of Houston, Miami and Los Angeles coming after our bulldog, our leader, the reason for our turnaround. When he eventually re-signed, when Lowry showed his loyalty to the city of Toronto, it was hailed as a success and welcomed like a hero.
Lowry then went on to build on his success from 2013-14. He posted two tremendous months in November and December, leading the Raptors to a 24-8 record while averaging 20.7 points, 7.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per game on a plus-minus of +6.6. He single-handed carried the Raptors while DeMar DeRozan was out and earned Player of the Month honors, a feat accomplished by only three Raptors in its pathetic 20-year history.
For his efforts, Lowry was celebrated as a national hero. Sure, MLSE was characteristically over-the-top in their campaign to get Lowry into the All-Star Game, but he deserved it. The whole country was behind him. Prime Minister Stephen Harper (mis)cast his vote for Lowry. So did Justin Bieber and Drake. When a late surge finally got him in, we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. He brought the Raptors into relevancy and we did our part in making sure the league recognized that.
If you’re on this site in early May, then you know the rest of the story. The slow-motion free-fall from the top of the mountain to the depths of self-loathing took place over the span of four excruciating months. By the time we reached our nadir, the playoff spotlight was firmly fixed upon us. Not only did the Raptors melt, they melted in spectacular fashion, starting with Lowry. What was originally billed as an all-star point guard matchup between Lowry and John Wall turned into a lopsided coronation for Wall, while Lowry was made to look like the emperor in new clothes — a fake or fallen star. That dichotomy also played out on a larger scale with the teams themselves.
In the wake of it all, standing shell-shocked in a smouldering mess with nothing but shattered dreams, a significant portion of the fanbase (as far as I can tell from reading the comments here) have turned on Lowry. They want him gone.
There’s the knee-jerk reactionary crowd that want him gone. That’s fine. It happens. People overreact to everything and the scope of the playoffs is so narrow that it magnifies everything. I’m not talking about these people.
I’m talking about the crowd that thinks Lowry is over-the-hill, that 2015 Lowry is the new reality and he should be traded so as to maximize value. Deal him for a pick, or a younger player(s) or so the thought goes. He’s only going downhill from here and maybe Masai Ujiri can hoodwink a team into taking on Lowry at full-price when he’s clearly a fat, temperamental chucker who gambles and pouts. Judging by the sentiment, I’d confuse Lowry for Raymond Felton.
“How did we end up here … this place smells like balls.”
Let’s slow down for a minute and just breathe. Let’s think this through instead of diving head-first into a steaming vat of hot takes and misery.
First off, regardless of what your opinion is of Lowry, selling him now would be selling low, not high. Lowry averaged 15.6 points, six rebounds and 2.7 turnovers on 34.6 minutes per game in 2015. That included 37.6 percent shooting from the field and 32.6 percent from deep. Those would be career-lows across the board. Regression is on Lowry’s side, especially with his shooting percentages. It’s selling low, not high, to part with Lowry right now. If anything, if maximizing value is your thing, then you should want Lowry to stick around, bounce back to his norms, then open the phones.
Second, Lowry isn’t some Felton-esque player. That would be a vast exaggeration of some admittedly real problems that have unfortunately defined his career. He has had a checkered history in terms of coaching clashes and conditioning issues. But he’s also always been a player who unquestionably cared. Not in terms of just putting in the requisite effort — he really gives a shit. His heart is in the right place, there is to be no doubt about that.
Third, it’s unclear as to how much relevancy Lowry’s past holds in these discussions. It clearly didn’t weigh on Ujiri’s mind when he re-signed Lowry last summer. You don’t hand long-term deals to such a player if you (a) believed these flaws to be fatal for Lowry or (b) foreseen his slide. All indications point to Ujiri’s famed heart-to-heart with Lowry last year leading to a transformation. It’s borne out in the results, anyway. Both Lowry and the Raptors were a lot different in 2014 than 2015.
Fourth, dealing Lowry means re-building in a big way. There’s no sense in dealing Lowry for another win-now piece because it would leave a massive hole at point guard during a summer without prime point guard free agents (unless you’re still in 2010 and Rajon Rondo is your guy). Plus, it’s not like Lowry is on a bad contract. He’s got two more guaranteed seasons at $12 million per year (a $12 million player option thereafter), which is very reasonable considering both his skillset and the rising cap. On a bigger scale, the Raptors are also not tied into any long-term commitments. They have a ton of contracts coming off the books this summer and most pieces can easily be liquefied. This isn’t a Joe Johnson situation with the 2012 Hawks, for example.
But fine, let’s say you do want to deal Lowry.
Maybe you’re very pessimistic about the future of the team as currently constructed. After seeing how things transpired in 2015, I can definitely see that viewpoint. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, personally, but there is something to be said about getting a head start on rebuilding before things crash for good. If your view of the Raptors is similar to that of the 2012-13 Sixers (young team, didn’t have enough potential or quality to get past the first round), then resetting earlier means rebooting earlier. The market might even be primed for such deals. Both the Kings and Lakers are two teams with obvious holes to fill at point guard. Netting prospects like Julius Randle or Nik Stauskas would come close to satiating those who burned for a tankjob last season.
However, the alternative isn’t that preposterous, either.
Maybe the best course of action is to build around Lowry. That is, to hold onto a player who has shown loyalty to the franchise, who can play like a star, who has single-handedly changed the course of the franchise. Sure, he’s miscast as the number one man, but no one (reasonably) thought of him as such and the Raptors have enough assets — cap space, appealing trade pieces — to add onto the existing core. And let’s not forget that coaching and schemes factor in as well. Prior to the last two seasons, Lowry’s usage was hoovered around 20, an average mark for a point guard. He’s never been a 25.4 percent usage guard like he was this season. He showed the ability to take a backseat and to run an actual set offense in Houston. Perhaps a change in schemes, with some added talent will help maximize Lowry’s skillset.
Somehow, it just doesn’t seem that crazy to build upon a core that includes a talented player like Lowry. Or, at least, it’s less crazy than a fanbase doing a complete 180 on a former fan-favorite after four lousy months.