Are Raptors Preparing for Kyle Lowry's Departure by Acquiring Lou Williams?

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Are Raptors Preparing for Kyle Lowry's Departure by Acquiring Lou Williams?
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Kyle Lowry is just one of many players—along with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony—expected to dominate the headlines once the NBA’s free-agency period officially opens on July 1.

And while the Toronto Sun’s Doug Smith reported as recently as May 5 that Lowry has more than a soft spot for his adopted city, that’s not stopping the Toronto Raptors from making contingency plans.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore, the Raptors are on the cusp of completing a trade that would send John Salmons and a future second-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Lou Williams and Brazilian prospect Lucas Nogueira.

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For the Raptors, the move serves a twofold purpose: Not only do they get a proven veteran capable of playing both guard positions, but they also push themselves even further under the salary cap, thereby giving them a better chance to either re-sign Lowry, fully convey either of their two qualifying offers or go after another free agent altogether.

As Vivlamore points out, while Williams’ knee injury may be a cause for some concern, his expiring deal means Toronto will have a bit more breathing room next summer should they go all-in over the next few months:

Williams will make $5,450,000 next season, which was to be the final of a three-year free-agent deal he signed with the Hawks. Williams was the odd-man out in the Hawks guard rotation and was likely to be in the same position this season. Williams, who returned last season from a torn right ACL, did not play in a stretch of seven straight games in March as a coach’s decision.

As for Lowry, his potential suitors have already included the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Miami, according to a recent report by USA Today’s Sam Amick.

Facing such a daunting trio of heavy hitters, Toronto may have to dig a bit deeper into the franchise kitty if it has any chance of retaining Lowry, whose breakout 2013-14 season has him eyeing a much-deserved payday.

Indeed, it’s worth wondering whether the Raptors have changed their tune in the months since NBA.com’s David Aldridge reported the team was reluctant to give their floor general an All-Star payday:

The Raptors do not want to give Lowry a big-money contract this summer along the lines of what other point guards who've signed extensions recently: Denver's Ty Lawson (four years, $48 million), Golden State's Stephen Curry (four years, $44 million) or New Orleans' Jrue Holiday (four years, $41 million from Philadelphia).

Once the Williams-Salmons trade is finalized, the Raptors will have around $40 million in committed salaries. Should they exercise Amir Johnson’s $7 million team option, that figure will rise to $47 million—still a full $16 million shy of the projected salary cap.

That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s certainly possible that a rival team in need of backcourt depth will trump the $3.2 million qualifying offer currently on the table for Greivis Vasquez, who emerged as a key part of Toronto’s rotation despite his ostensible role as Lowry’s primary backup.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

According to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, teams have seven days to match an offer for a restricted free agent. Which means that, if Vasquez were to sign an offer sheet on, say, July 2, the Raptors would have to pull out every stop necessary to lure Lowry back within a week—if that’s indeed their plan.

If their gambit fails, they’d most certainly have to match Vasquez’s offer. Assuming it’s not exorbitant, of course.

Unless the Raptors have designs on another point guard altogether—unlikely, given this year’s crop—it’s hard to believe they’d be willing to enter the 2014-15 season with Lou Williams as their opening night starter.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

What Williams is, then, is a worst-case stopgap, should Toronto somehow whiff on both Lowry and Vasquez. At best, he's a versatile combo guard capable of providing much-needed scoring off the bench.

Needless to say, Toronto is hoping he's the latter.

Fresh as the Raptors are off of their first playoff appearance in six years, it seems unlikely that that general manager Masai Ujiri and his team would willingly take two steps back—particularly given the franchise’s exciting, youth-laden core.

As such, it stands to reason Toronto is either preparing to make a run at Lowry or will match any and every offer for Vasquez in hopes that the 27-year-old can hold down the fort before next summer’s similarly compelling free-agent class.

If, on the other hand, the Raptors lose out on Lowry but retain Vasquez for a reasonable price—say something in the neighborhood of three years, $15 million—that would still give Toronto around $11 million (along with a $2 million mini mid-level exception) with which to fill out the roster.

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Which naturally invites the question: Which would you rather have, Kyle Lowry and a spare bit of free-agent change, or Greivis Vasquez and a couple of legitimate rotation players?

Should another team quickly move on Vasquez, we could know the answer sooner than later.

Even if their efforts to re-sign Lowry ultimately fall short, however, Ujiri’s latest trade proves Toronto is prepared for just about every eventuality.

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