Kyle Lowry is opting out amid free-agent 'rumbles,' but he and the Raptors still need each other

Kyle Lowry has gotten a long look at the Toronto Raptors. (AP)

The 2016-17 season ended in downright depressing fashion for Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. He twisted his ankle in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, watched from the sidelines as his teammates got swept on their home floor, and conceded they don’t really have a chance to do much better until LeBron James is old and gray.

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Things only got more disheartening for Toronto fans. Soon after the Lowry-less Raptors were brushed out of Air Canada Centre like a curling stone, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein suggested on Twitter that the team’s demise — one series and two fewer games shy of last year’s six-game Eastern Conference finals loss to Cleveland — may be enough to convince Lowry that Toronto is no longer the place for him:


Less than 24 hours later, Lowry told reporters in Toronto he indeed intended to opt out of his 2017-18 contract and test the lucrative unrestricted free-agent waters for the first time in his 11-year career:


Freak out, right? After all, Lowry has made three straight All-Star Games, averaging an efficient 20.4 points, 6.7 assists, 4.7  rebounds and 1.7 steals, and he’s led Toronto to unseen heights alongside backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan in that span. The Raptors may not be the best, but they’re the best they’ve ever been, and coach Dwane Casey is the first to admit losing Lowry spells the end of that:


We can argue whether signing a 31-year-old who may not be one of the five best at his position to a max contract is a wise business decision for a franchise with title aspirations, but we should all agree the Raptors would be worse off for the foreseeable future without Lowry. Teams don’t get better when they lose an All-Star point guard, and odds are they won’t find one better this summer or the next.

This news might be bleak for Toronto, but it’s not all bad for Lowry. The Raptors can offer him roughly $200 million over the next five seasons, and other suitors could extend a four-year deal worth closer to $150 million. Either way, he has a hefty raise coming after playing for $12 million the last few years.

A $50 million discrepancy in guaranteed money is significant for any player, especially Lowry. The Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets both gave up on him in his first six seasons, and it wasn’t until he went to Toronto that a team truly handed him the keys. He genuinely seems to enjoy the city:


And his bond with DeRozan goes beyond a traditional working NBA relationship. Seriously, read these Lowry quotes from The Globe and Mail’s Rachel Brady after DeRozan signed his max deal last summer:

On their late-night conversations:

We are on FaceTime together a lot late at night. If I have something to say, I hit him up right away. On the road, I hang out in his room; he hangs out in my room. We have genuine conversations about life. Yes, we sometimes talk about basketball, but we are grown men and mostly we talk about our families, our kids, everyday life. He’s in my Favourites list, so when he calls me, it rings through no matter what.

On the friendship between DeRozan’s daughter Diar and Lowry’s son Karter:

You see our two kids in pictures at the games hanging out – that’s real. Diar and Karter are best friends. Lots of times, I have to FaceTime DeMar just because the two kids want to talk to each other. It’s one family really – me, my wife, my kids, him, his girl, his kids. My son calls him ‘Mar. They come to my house and the kids play cards and DeMar plays with them. The kids totally destroy the house. It’s fun. I have two boys; he has two girls – we’re different. DeMar has no boys, so in a way, that’s his boy. I see Diar, and I’m all nice around that little girl; I have laughs with her, I joke with her. She just calls me “Karter’s Daddy.”

How he describes DeRozan:

I’d call DeMar a best friend. A genuine, awesome, great guy. It’s beyond friendship, if there’s a word for that. Family, that’s the only other word for DeMar.


It’s hard enough to leave $50 million on the table. It’s harder still to do it when you’re living in a city you enjoy, working with people you consider family, and playing on a team that wins 50 games a year.

Only one nugget from Lowry’s exit interview on Monday raised an eyebrow about his free agency:


Even that was tamed with this:


And where could he go outside of Toronto that would give him a better chance to win? The Cavs and Golden State Warriors have point guards, as do the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards in the East and the Houston Rockets, L.A. Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers out West. The San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks might offer the best opportunities, but neither can offer a max deal this summer. Same goes for the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans.

Maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves, if they dealt Ricky Rubio, as was rumored at the trade deadline, would be a nice landing spot for Lowry, but how interested is he in building for the future? He could be very interested. Stein seems to think it’s a possibility, at least insofar as a rise in volume of late-season rumbles about someone’s thought process can have any bearing on a real free-agent decision.


I’m not in tune with Lowry’s thought process or any rumbles about it, but it seems to me the only thing standing in the way of Lowry returning to Toronto next season is how bad the Raptors want him.

General manager Masai Ujiri could very well determine it’s time to move on from Lowry and build around a 27-year-old DeRozan, what with his team also potentially losing Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker to free agency this year. The Raptors were swept in the second round, despite going all in a season after taking the Cavs to six games in the conference finals. No matter how you you view Toronto, the franchise has either plateaued or headed down the other side of the mountain.

Then, there’s this from The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk, a columnist with a history of confrontations with the city’s stars, who really let Lowry have it Sunday with a series of anonymously sourced quotes:

And there are those around the Air Canada Centre who cast a sceptical eye at his decision to forgo Games 3 and 4 on account of a sprained ankle. One insider wondered: Why did Lowry, who often takes his warmup shots in the Air Canada Centre’s practice court, make a show of shooting on the main court before Games 3 and 4? Nobody’s saying he wasn’t truly injured. Some were suggesting it was telling that he needed to publicly demonstrate the extent of the hurt.

“It’s all a show,” said one NBA source.

Speaking of Lowry’s over-arching history as a less-than-reliable post-season performer, another source said: “The bright lights get to him.”

As take-down-y as that feels, Lowry does have an extensive playoff injury log, from a sore knee in 2014 to back spasms in 2015, a sore elbow in 2016 and the ankle sprain this year. And he does have a history of wilting in the postseason, shooting just 40 percent as Toronto has posted a 17-24 playoff record over the past four seasons. Ujiri is working with a considerable sample size at this point.

But the Raptors have to ask themselves the same question Lowry does this summer: What better options do they have? Stephen Curry and Chris Paul aren’t leaving for Toronto in free agency. Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Jeff Teague are nice players, but they don’t get you any closer to a title.

Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo? Hell no, and hell no to the ninth degree.

As hard a bargain as the Raptors drive this summer, Lowry will undoubtedly threaten to sign a max contract elsewhere, as those rumblings and his “anywhere I play” comment suggest. The only question left is whether they can meet somewhere in the middle. Still, both sides know they need each other, and it’s hard to imagine any scenario that doesn’t involve them finding common ground come July.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!