What Is Kyle Lowry Worth as Unrestricted Free Agent?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

TORONTO, CANADA - April 11: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors drives against the New York Knicks on April 11, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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There's little doubt the Toronto Raptors want unrestricted free agent Kyle Lowry back. What's harder to determine is how much they should pay to ensure his return.

The Raps won a franchise-record 48 games last season before bowing out of the playoffs after seven spirited tilts against the veteran-laden Brooklyn Nets. Lowry had plenty to do with that success, posting a terrific season that featured career-best numbers in points, rebounds, assists, efficiency rating and win shares.

As such, there's sure to be other interested parties bidding for Lowry's services this summer. That will make it all the more important for the Raptors, who don't want to cloud their otherwise bright future by overpaying for a 28-year-old coming off of a his best-ever season, to get this right.

So as tempting as it'll be for Toronto to spend whatever it takes for the player who guided them to such a surprisingly successful year, making sure the dollars make sense will be key.

And we can't be sure if a hometown discount (if there ever really is such a thing) will come into play here. Because despite Lowry's encouraging affinity for Toronto, he's only been there for two years.

Still, even immediately after the disappointment of postseason elimination in early May, Lowry seemed pretty enthused about coming back to the Raps.

"I love this place. I love this situation. It's as simple as that," he said, per The Canadian Press (via CBC Sports).

Mar 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (left) gets hugged by guard DeMar DeRozan (right) after a win over the Atlanta Hawks at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Atlanta 96-86. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA T

We all know players in Lowry's situation rarely reveal their plans to skip town. The most directness we ever hear is something along the lines of "I'll explore all my options and do what's best for me and my family." Lowry could have said that, which would have been code for "I'm outta here."

So it's probably safe to assume his affinity for Toronto is real.

Plus, general manager Masai Ujiri is confident contract talks will go well, per Eric Koreen of The National Post:

It’s very important for us in terms of continuity. Kyle has had a phenomenal year. I thought Kyle was a huge, huge key to our season. … And so, for me, negotiating is easy for me if we want Kyle to be here and Kyle wants to be here. Negotiating becomes tough when either party maybe does not want to the player to be here or the player does not want to be here. I think we’ll be fair with Kyle and we’ll figure it out and I think it’s important.

Well, I guess that settles it: Lowry's staying.

Unless, of course, he prices himself out of whatever range the Raps deem reasonable. Given Lowry's big season and some of the hefty salaries of his point guard peers, that's a possibility.

Here's what the league's most handsomely compensated point men will be collecting in 2014-15, with players like Kyrie Irving—who are still on rookie-scale contracts—excluded, per Spotrac.com:

2014-15 NBA Point Guard Salaries
Player2014-15 Salary
Chris Paul$20,068,563
Deron Williams$19,754,465
Derrick Rose$18,862,876
Russell Westbrook$15,719,062
Jeremy Lin$14,898,938
John Wall$13,701,250
Rajon Rondo$12,909,090
Tony Parker$12,500,000
Ty Lawson$11,595,506
Stephen Curry$10,629,213
Jrue Holiday$9,904,495
Steve Nash$9,701,000
Mike Conley$8,694,216
Jameer Nelson$8,000,000
George Hill$8,000,000
Jeff Teague$8,000,000
Brandon Jennings$8,000,000
Goran Dragic$7,500,000

The range of salaries is vast and marked by as many ridiculous overpays (Deron Williams) as incredible bargains (Goran Dragic). Knowing what the market says point guards are worth is helpful, but perhaps it would further clarify things if we took a look at where Lowry stacks up statistically with his fellow point guards.

Here's how he ranked in 2013-14 in terms of PER, per Basketball-Reference.com:

2013-14 Point Guard Player Efficiency Rating
Chris Paul25.9
Russell Westbrook24.7
Stephen Curry24.1
Goran Dragic21.4
Isaiah Thomas20.5
Kyrie Irving20.1
Kyle Lowry20.1
Mike Conley20.0
John Wall19.5
Ty Lawson19.0

And here's a breakdown based on total win shares:

2013-14 Point Guard Win Shares
PlayerWin Shares
Stephen Curry13.4
Chris Paul12.2
Kyle Lowry11.7
Goran Dragic10.3
Damian Lillard9.6
Mike Conley8.2
John Wall7.9
George Hill7.8
Isaiah Thomas7.7
Kyrie Irving6.7

It seems like the more information we compile, the trickier it becomes to peg Lowry's fair value. We see his PER ranked seventh among point guards last season, which theoretically slots his worth right between John Wall and Tony Parker next year. If he were the seventh-highest-paid point guard next year, Lowry would collect almost $13 million, which would put him right alongside Rajon Rondo.

That feels like too much, doesn't it?

And if Lowry were to be paid for his contributions to actually winning basketball games, which is kind of an important thing, his No. 3 position in win shares among point guards could drive his price further skyward. Even if we split the difference between the third and fourth slots on next year's point guard pay scale, that still puts Lowry between Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook—perhaps somewhere around $16 million per year.

It seems crazy to imagine he'll get anything close to that figure, and it's only fair to admit that picking out Lowry's statistical ranks and equating them to raw dollars is a crude way to go about nailing down his value.

But if you think his agent, Andy Miller, won't be making those exact comparisons at the negotiating table (probably complete with charts, video presentations and a giant neon sign that reads "11.7 win shares is a lot of win shares"), you're crazy.

Naturally, the Raps will counter with raw numbers saying Lowry should be worth closer to $9 to $10 million per year. They'll point out that he's already 28 and has a career PER of 16.9, per Basketball-Reference.com, which is good, but it's not significantly above the league average of 15.0. Expect Toronto to also point out that Lowry only recently shed his reputation as a malcontent and that his breakout season came suspiciously in a contract year.

Apr 27, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It might get ugly as the two sides make their cases, but the Raptors will have to concede that Lowry has been a darn good player for most of his career. They won't, however, readily agree to treat him like a franchise cornerstone worthy of nearly a quarter of the team's cap figure.

As those negotiations play out, there'll be other teams looking to kick the tires on Lowry as well. Some of those clubs might be more willing (read: desperate) than Toronto to overpay the free-agent point guard.

Suppose Steve Nash retires and the Los Angeles Lakers get involved. Longtime NBA scribe Peter Vecsey thinks they should, and he even has a dollar amount for Lowry in mind:

You'd have to assume the Raptors would be willing to pay that number, and Lowry would certainly prefer the situation in Toronto—where the team is on the upswing—to the less certain one in Los Angeles.

It's unclear who else might come calling to potentially drive up Lowry's asking price, but we'll surely see a handful of suitors emerge after the July 1 moratorium on free-agent negotiations is lifted. And remember, this isn't a situation where the Raptors will necessarily have to match another team's offer to keep Lowry.

He's unrestricted, which means every club has a fair shot, and no meddling team can force Toronto to overpay by signing him to a bloated offer sheet. The Raptors can set a price for Lowry and either pay it or not.

Mar 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) celebrates a win as Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic (6) walks off the court at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Atlanta 96-86. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY

In some ways, that's liberating.

In the end, a return to Toronto seems most likely, and based on both parties' comments after the playoffs, it doesn't sound like one or the other is out to gouge anybody.

So if we assume Lowry is willing to take something along the lines of a four-year, $46 million deal, it seems like the Raps would be willing to pay it. Such a contract would slot Lowry right next to Ty Lawson—below franchise point guards like Chris Paul, Westbrook, Rose and Parker, but he would land above the likes of Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague.

That seems fair, doesn't it?

Such a contract might seem like something of a discount based on last year's performance alone, but it sits reasonably in line with what the Raptors should be able to expect from Lowry going forward: borderline All-Star play.

Of course, that's a reasonable result that should make both parties happy in a perfect world. But we've seen before how reason doesn't always play as big of a role in free-agent situations as it ought to. In other words, we've got a good idea of what Lowry is worth.

What he might wind up being paid is a different question entirely.


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