Kyle Lowry is irreplaceable for the Toronto Raptors. If you take the money out of the equation for a second it’s easier to love what Lowry means to this team. Lowry is the leader on the court and in the locker room.
What About DeRozan?
DeMar DeRozan is an all-star and even if you think he’s better than Kyle Lowry, DeRozan isn’t the vocal leader in the locker room. That’s fine, but a franchise needs a star player that will hold guys accountable behind closed doors. For the Raptors that guy has been Kyle Lowry.
People are quick to point out Kyle Lowry has been bad in the playoffs. He has struggled and there is no way of covering that up, but I think suggesting Lowry is a bad playoff player is a stretch. His post-all-star injury history hasn’t been good with the Raptors over the last four years. The injuries are the most plausible reason why Lowry hasn’t looked right in the playoffs. If he is healthy there is no reason why anyone should expect Lowry’s play to dip come playoff time.
Kyle Lowry Was on Pace for a Career Year
Prior to getting injured Lowry was having the best year of his career. In fact, for a while, the Raptors as a team were at a historical pace in terms of offense. The combination of Lowry and DeRozan was yielding this potent offense until it wasn’t. Prior to the all-star break, the Raptors ran into a slump. There were less DeRozan insane outrageous scoring games. Terrence Ross’s shooting reverted to the mean. And Kyle Lowry ran into problems on defense. The Raptors made moves to acquire Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker to fix the PF hole and improve wing defense. However, Kyle Lowry was hurt and only played four games post-all-star and clearly wasn’t 100% heading into the playoffs. If Kyle would have been healthy and was able to build chemistry with Ibaka and Tucker maybe the Raptors would have had a better shot against the Cavs.
Kyle Lowry Pre-All-Star Stats:
Why Does Lowry Seemingly Get Injured Every Year?
There is no definitive answer to this question. During the regular season, Kyle Lowry has played heavy minutes. In fact, Lowry has only played under 30 minutes once as a member of the Toronto Raptors. That was his first year with the Raptors where he played 29.7 minutes per game. In the four seasons following he only played one under 35 minutes per game. And in the last two seasons, he’s played at least 37 minutes per game in each. Playing heavy minutes like that puts miles on the odometer. If Lowry is breaking down every season isn’t the fix just to play him fewer minutes? The Raptors have capable backups now in Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet. There’s no reason why Kyle Lowry needs to play more than 30 minutes a game during the regular season. I would even argue the Raptors would still get into the playoffs if Lowry only played 25 minutes a game. The Raptors have been getting around 50 wins each year over the last four years. If it means sacrificing a few regular seasons wins for Kyle Lowry to be 100% come playoff time sign me up. There was a time where just getting to the playoffs was enough for the Raptors fanbase. Not anymore. Fans want to see the Raptors compete. Without a healthy Lowry that is probably impossible.
If Kyle Lowry Leaves What Happens at Point Guard?
Cory Joseph and Delon Wright are good backups. Hell, even Fred VanVleet might be a good backup, but none of these guys should be starters in the NBA. Joseph isn’t good enough of a playmaker to be a starter and he’s atrocious on the defensive end. Joseph had a defensive rating of 110 this season. That is the same rating as DeRozan and DeRozan is known to be a poor defender. You might not want to buy in that Cory is an awful defender on one stat alone, so pick any stat or metric and it will tell a similar story. Joseph had a negative box score plus/minus and ranked 73rd in defensive real plus/minus among point guards. He shoots okay, but not enough to make up for his below average passing ability as a point guard. And again Joseph isn't helpful when the other team has the ball.
But Delon Wright Can Be a Starter Right?
I think what people don’t realize with Wright is that he is already 25 years old and a couple of weeks older than Jonas Valanciunas. Unlike Joseph, Wright has been a very good defender. Delon can probably develop his game a little bit, but to be a starting point guard in the NBA he would likely need to significantly improve his shooting and playmaking. I think it’s possible he can improve one, but not both which could make him an elite backup point guard in the NBA.
Point guard is the deepest position in the NBA now. If you are a team not named the Spurs without a top 15 point guard, you probably are a fringe playoff team at best. If the Raptors lose Kyle Lowry that’s probably where they likely will be in the standings next year and that would be taking a step backward.
Fred VanVleet was a pleasant surprise. He was undrafted but didn’t look out of place in his rookie season with the Raptors. VanVleet could very well become a backup point guard in the NBA, but anything more than that is wishful thinking.
Debunking PG Replacements
I’ve heard from Raptors fans that Eric Bledsoe and Jrue Holiday could be viable replacements for Kyle Lowry. Personally, I like both players, but it’s hard to imagine either would be better than Lowry. Eric Bledsoe would require the Raptors giving up assets to trade for him. If the Raptors are giving up something of value for Bledsoe and Bledsoe isn’t as good as Lowry that’s probably sliding a little too far on the treadmill. Jrue Holiday is interesting, but the Raptors would have to renounce all their free agents to have a hope of signing him. That means not only giving up Kyle Lowry, but also giving up Serge Ibaka, PJ Tucker, and Patrick Patterson. The cap space simply isn’t there to add Holiday as well as replace the Raptors free agents.
The $200M Question
At the age of 31 with health concerns is Kyle Lowry worth a 5-year $200+M contract? Based on that question most people would say the Raptors shouldn’t sign Kyle Lowry. However, I don’t think it will take $200M to re-sign Lowry. There isn’t much of a market at max money for him in the NBA. Philly and Houston two teams to be rumored to be interested in Lowry have already gotten point guards (Fultz & Paul respectively). Kyle has stated he wants to be on a winning team with the chance of competing for a title. The Raptors are certainly a winning team, but probably don’t have a real shot at a title next year. However, unless Lowry signs with the Warriors the odds for him winning a title next year are extremely low. Some might argue that if Lowry were to join the Spurs they would have a shot at beating the Warriors. They might be right, but I don’t think the Spurs are an organization that would throw big money at an aging point guard with health concerns. The Spurs are probably the best-managed franchise in the business from being able to develop talent at any spot in the draft to making their players feel like they are part of an elite fraternity. My question is why would they take a risk with big money on Kyle Lowry when they can continue to be very good without getting stuck with a potentially awful contract. If Kyle would be willing to leave a lot of money on the table I’m sure the Spurs would love to have him, but he’s likely about to sign his last NBA contract and has been underpaid his entire career. Lowry implied this season that he would re-sign this season if the Raptors paid him the $200M, but I doubt he would scoff at a figure like $150M to stay with the Raptors especially if there aren’t a lot of other teams ready to pony up that kind of money.
“You have said Lowry isn’t worth $200M but is worth $150M?”
Kyle Lowry probably isn’t worth a $150M contract, but if that’s what it takes to keep him you do it. Lowry probably has two elite seasons left in him. The Raptors window to be good is now, so they need him for those next two prime years. Beyond that Kyle will likely decline, but the hope is that even if he’s no longer an elite player he can still be serviceable in years 3 and 4. This contract isn’t going to be moveable, so it’s hard to stomach dead money on the books in the final years. If it’s the last year of this new contract where Kyle Lowry doesn’t have anything left I’m okay with that. He has given the Raptors the best four-year run in franchise history and didn’t bolt the last time he was a free agent when every American media outlet said he would or should. At $150M Kyle Lowry would be the highest paid player on the Raptors, but not so much so that DeRozan would be jealous.
The Raptors need Kyle Lowry back. There is no way to replace his contributions to the team. Since there is no alternative to Lowry, the Raptors have to do everything in their power to bring him back (without paying the $200M). Otherwise, the Raptors may have to blow up the team and tank. If you have been a fan of the Raptors for a long time that is not something you should want.