So the bromance between Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Toronto is over, at least it’s over on the court and if Lowry is upset about how the Raptors treated his best friend, no one should be surprised. It’s a situation that doesn’t appear to be getting enough attention and leads to the obvious question, what’s next?
For the Raptors, the best situation is Lowry embraces his new teammates Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, believes he has the potential to get to an NBA Finals for the first time in his career and accepts what everyone says, (whether they mean it or not) that the NBA is all about winning and it’s a business.
The problem being, Lowry would be nearly impossible to replace, although a few weeks ago the same thing might have been said about DeRozan.
A four-time All-Star point guard who takes over seven three-pointers a game, hits on 40 percent of them and is one of the league leaders in drawing charges every season is a rare player and he’s paid like one. An NBA top 10 salary of over $30 million annually with two years left on his deal, but he’ll be 33 next spring and injuries haven’t been his friend over the last three seasons. The Raptors finally started to manage his minutes down last year and that’s a trend his new head coach Nick Nurse will have to continue if he wants his All-Star to survive another long NBA regular season unscathed.
In the short term the obvious move for president Masai Ujiri is to give Lowry some space to process what’s happened and then try to get a handle on just how much long term damage has been done to their relationship and whether or not Lowry can put this all behind him in time for training camp? Unfortunately with Dwane Casey now coaching in Detroit, Ujiri doesn’t have the obvious best person to smooth things over.
In the near term, don’t expect anything more than avoidance of the issue by Lowry in the media. There is no upside personally or professionally for Lowry to say anything right now.
However, Ujiri can’t just sit idly-by hoping everything works out. Just like he did with DeRozan, he’s obligated to see if he can improve his roster or at least have a viable backup plan just in case he sees an impending disaster coming.
So don’t think Ujiri isn’t getting prepared. No roster needs four point guards heading into training camp and with the signing of the perfectly serviceable Lorenzo Brown, Ujiri has set up a situation where he could trade one if an opportunity presented itself.
The Raptors could go into next season with the roster as currently constructed. Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka could split minutes at center, OG Anunoby and C.J. Miles can soak up minutes at both forward spots and Norman Powell will be fighting for time on the wing. Nurse already has a viable 10-11 man rotation if Ujiri does nothing more this summer.
However, Toronto could use another serviceable big man just in case and if Lowry was traded, Nurse will need a really good three-point shooting guard coming back at the very least.
If Ujiri pulls the trigger on another blockbuster this summer, it would shock the NBA world. They weren’t even supposed to be in the running to get Leonard (more like the team being used to drive the price up). However, there’s always another GM somewhere who believes his roster is just one All-Star away from getting over the hump and will pay dearly for the player they believe is the missing piece.
The type of deal Ujiri might pursue would be a trade of Lowry for the Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris (4 years $74 million guaranteed) and Mason Plumlee (2 years $27 million remaining). Plumlee as the overpaid but serviceable center as trade ballast. Harris as the undersized young three-point shooting guard with enough of an injury history that Denver might just consider letting him go in order to get the All-Star point guard they’ll need to make the playoffs in the NBA West.
It would be a trade that has all the earmarks of the DeRozan for Leonard swap, just the other way around, but it’s a move that could be sold in both markets and work out for both teams and it’s the type of move Ujiri will have to look for if he decides he can’t bet on his near term future with Lowry in the fold.
For now, there’s no reason for Ujiri to panic. The best scenario is for Lowry to buy in and lead the Raptors again next season. But that doesn’t mean the Raptors aren’t out there quietly pursuing every option and looking at every opportunity just in case they have to do something about Lowry.