It's a good thing for Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry that his breakout season came in a contract year, but at the same time, he's not exactly entering a buyer's market for point guards. With the Los Angeles Lakers being one of only a few teams in need of a starter at that position, Lowry may not spark the bidding war in free agency one would expect.
What Lowry has been able to accomplish this year has been impressive though, without question. When it looked like Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was going to sell off parts and rebuild, Lowry held things together after the Rudy Gay trade and unexpectedly filled a role as a leader.
While no one has ever doubted Lowry's talent, he's come a long way by addressing previous questions about his attitude. Lowry has matured and grown into a more stable personality while keeping his play as dynamic as ever. He's finally put it all together.
Lowry's ability to lift up an entire franchise is awfully appealing, particularly for teams that need talent wherever they can find it. Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports with more:
For the season, Lowry's been magnificent, averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Across the past 15 games, he been even better: 19 points, 9.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Most of all, the Raptors are winning – 37-29 and in third place in the Eastern Conference.
Ujiri passed on a chance to trade Lowry at the deadline, and wants to sign him to a long-term extension this summer. Lowry could command $10-12 million a year on the market, especially in a summer where the Los Angeles Lakers have cap space and a running mate for Kobe Bryant.
Interestingly enough, this isn't the first time we've heard Lowry's name attached to the Lakers. Earlier this season, Ken Berger of CBS Sports reported this:
In fact, league sources say the Lakers lodged an inquiry with Toronto about a deal for Kyle Lowry to stabilize their injury-ravaged point guard position.
The Lakers showing interest in a player on an expiring contract like Lowry, even during a lost season, could tell us a few different things. The first would be that the Lakers were desperate at that time for any point guard with two healthy legs.
The second and probably more likely explanation is that the Lakers were trying to buy low on Lowry while the Raptors appeared to be entering a full-blown rebuild. By acquiring Lowry (and his Bird Rights) the Lakers could have re-signed Pau Gasol and kept a nice little trio of Lowry, Bryant and Gasol going into next year without exceeding the cap to do so.
Of course, that dream died at the trade deadline. Gasol would have to re-sign on a significantly cheaper deal this offseason that allows the Lakers enough room leftover to go after Lowry, which might be difficult if the Lakers have plans on addressing any other position.
Should Lowry really be the centerpiece of the free-agency plan?
Big contract-year performances always throw up some red flags, and adding a strong personality next to Bryant could result in fireworks. Still, Lowry has shown the ability to work nicely with a post-oriented wing player in DeMar DeRozan while keeping his own offensive focus on track. Lowry plays a smart game, as he explained to Wojnarowski:
"I guess I was a great analytics player before I even knew what it was," Lowry says with a laugh. "The things they emphasized – free throws, 3-pointers, layups – were things that were a big part of my game. You can really help yourself if you understand analytics. Not sure you can pick the best team in the world by just using it, but it helps. There's no doubt in my mind."
Could Lowry work next to Kobe Bryant as the point guard in Mike D'Antoni's point guard-friendly offensive system? Absolutely. It wouldn't be a shock if he put up even bigger numbers than he is now, and he'd certainly improve the Lakers as a whole, especially since he's a bulldog of a defender.
That being said, you have to consider what Lowry's value over a replacement player would be. If he truly is going to demand something in the $10-12 million from the few teams who need a starting point guard around the league (Toronto, Lakers, maybe a team like the Milwaukee Bucks), then he'd be absorbing an awful lot of salary that could be used to make improvements elsewhere.
And if there's one thing that D'Antoni is really excellent at, it's turning unheralded point guards into really productive players. He did it with Jeremy Lin, Chris Duhon and even Kendall Marshall, who will be back next season. Can Lowry provide production that's worth $10 million more than Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak's next bargain-bin signing or D'Antoni's next young project? That might be difficult to do.
It would seem to make more sense to spend the money elsewhere, particularly since Lowry will almost certainly need a deal that extends beyond two years, which is the life of Bryant's massive contract.
If the Lakers are truly gunning for the 2015 offseason, when players like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge could be available, then signing Lowry to a substantial deal both in terms of money and years could seriously jeopardize that.
That all creates an interesting dynamic. The Lakers are one of the few teams in the league without an established star at point guard after Steve Nash's injuries, and they're also one of the few teams that have that need and the means to fill it with plenty of cap space.
That would seem to make Lowry a perfectly logical signing, but the Lakers are stuck between competing in Bryant's window and finding stars for the future. Lowry is a great player, but he probably doesn't move the needle enough to justify the contract he'll likely demand.
Unless the lack of buyers on the market drives his price down somewhere closer to the $7 million-a-year range, which seems unlikely given his play this year, the Lakers are probably better off finding a more movable asset at an even bigger position of need in free agency.