Surveying the free-agency landscape and looking at Toronto's cap situation, there are no other options for the Raptors to run down—nothing and no one promising them what Lowry can.
In the absence of sufficient contingency plans, Toronto has only Lowry, the fringe-star point guard who is indispensable and, therefore, someone the Raptors can ill-afford to leave behind.
Rewarding a Breakout
There is no secret code to cipher here. The Raptors must retain Lowry and they know it.
Other teams know it too. Judging by the widespread interest in his services, his immaculate 2013-14 campaign has gone unnoticed by no one, per USA Today's Sam Amick and ESPN.com's Chris Broussard:
The ever-popular Kyle Lowry received interest tonight from Miami, the Lakers, Rockets, Dallas, and - of course - incumbent Raptors, I'm told— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 1, 2014
Source: Miami, Toronto, Houston and Dallas register interest in signing Kyle Lowry— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 1, 2014
Nothing less could have been expected after the season Lowry had. He averaged career highs in points (17.9), assists (7.4) and three-point shooting (38 percent), joining Stephen Curry as the only two players to register at least 17 points and seven assists while drilling 38 percent or more of their long balls for all of 2013-14.
Statistically speaking, Lowry should have been an All-Star. He wasn't, but it doesn't matter. He performed at an All-Star level, so he should be considered an All-Star.
And it was this All-Star who brought an end to the Raptors' half-decade-long playoff drought. The last time they creeped into the postseason (2008), Chris Bosh was headlining the roster. Their playoff berth, even though they didn't make it out of the first round, was a long time coming and well deserved for a fanbase that has slogged through too many years of lottery berths and losing.
Lowry was and remains at the center of it all, quarterbacking a top-10 offense, bringing out the best in project-turned-All-Star DeMar DeRozan, putting the Raptors on the map, enabling them to reach heights they haven't hit since the days of Vince Carter (sorry, Bosh).
Some will see Lowry's performance through cautionary-tale goggles. Last season was a contract year. When tens of millions of dollars hang in the balance, players play.
But the Raptors aren't in position to see Lowry's 2013-14 breakout as some sort of mirage or financially driven abnormality. Nor should they.
Only seven other players accounted for more team wins than Lowry: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. That's it. He finished eighth in win shares, ahead of superstars like Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Anthony Davis.
Can the Raptors be in the business of letting win-creating players who man the league's most important position go for any reason other than breaking news of an Air-Canada-Centre-sized asteroid speeding its way toward, and set to collide with, Planet Earth?
Not at all.
Masai Ujiri on free agency impacting draft: "We’ll go for talent in the draft, but Kyle Lowry is our target and we’ll try to get that done.”— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) June 23, 2014
And they don't appear to believe otherwise.
Taking Down the Competition
Hours before free agency began, Lowry's return seemed like a formality:
RE: rumbles Raptors already on verge of locking up Kyle Lowry ... all I can pass along is undeniable confidence from Raps about keeping him— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 30, 2014
Courting him hasn't been that simple, though. After listening to the Raptors' and Houston Rockets' pitches, and knowing he has a wealth of other options out there, Lowry is mulling over his situation, per the Toronto Sun's Mike Ganter:
He has options and he’s weighing them all. Whether the comfort he found in Toronto with his teammates and the fact that Toronto can offer him longer term and more money than any other team trumps the possibility to play for a championship next spring, only Lowry can answer.
The rest of us will just have to wait for the answer.
Emerging uncertainty is part of free agency. Agents look for leverage over teams. Lowry's delay could be a bigger ploy to drum up his value by finding a better deal than what the Raptors are offering. Or maybe he just has some thinking to do.
Or perhaps this means nothing.
The Raptors are still the favorites to land Lowry. Their only job at this point is ensuring it stays that way.
How do must they do that?
By pushing the bill. Upping the ante.
Preparing themselves to go all-in if they have to.
According to SportsNet's Michael Grange, the Raptors are comfortable with their four-year offer, as they should be. Some of the other prospective destinations cannot offer as much without strings attached, after all.
Neither Houston nor the Miami Heat will pony up the necessary cash to sign Lowry outright. The Heat can't, and the Rockets have awe-inspiring plans that would require them to land Lowry via a sign-and-trade—one the Raptors aren't willing to facilitate.
Source: Forget Kyle Lowry to Houston. Rockets wanted sign & trade but Toronto won't deal bc they want to keep Lowry— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 1, 2014
General manager Masai Ujiri and the Raptors have an inherent edge by default. Bird rights and a conditional market give them the inside track on retaining their most important player.
In the event another team—like the Dallas Mavericks—throws stacks of cash his way, the Raptors will have to strike and strike hard.
Five years worth of hard.
Toronto continues to radiate tangible confidence about its ability to re-sign highly coveted guard Kyle Lowry, with an offer said to be starting in the $12 million per year range.
There were rumblings in the early hours Tuesday that the Raptors have begun weighing whether they need to add a fifth year to their pitch to ensure they hold off the competition. Only the Raptors can pitch a five-year deal to Lowry.
Tethering their fate to the 28-year-old Lowry for the next half-decade might feel wrong. He has eight years of burn on those legs of his and doesn't have a spotless bill of health.
Lucky for the Raptors, then, it may not take a five-year contract to retain Lowry. But if that's what it ultimately takes, then that's what it takes.
Acknowledging the Truth
Continuing to build around Lowry isn't foolproof. There are obvious concerns.
Chief among them is the Raptors' ceiling. They flamed out in the first round of the playoffs this year. Can he find a way to push their bar even higher?
Acquiring Lou Williams from the Atlanta Hawks adds scoring and general depth to the backcourt. What it doesn't do is make the Raptors a championship team, even with Lowry. Barring a completely unforeseen transaction, they aren't winning any titles next season.
But something equally big is at stake, per Grange:
Meanwhile Ujiri and the Raptors are eager to send dual messages to the NBA: Toronto is a place that in-demand free agents want to play, but also that the Raptors aren’t the league’s ATM—a place where players will only stay if they are grossly overpaid.
Establishing Toronto as a hot landing spot for prospective free agents becomes that much harder if the Raptors don't find a way to take care of their own.
Overpaying Lowry is a real danger. Offering him five years and $55 million could be too much. They could come to regret it.
Should the Raptors go all out to re-sign Kyle Lowry?
Or they could inch closer to everything they've been chasing.
“I’m happy with making the playoffs and doing that, but the end game for all players should be a championship and that’s what I want to play for," Lowry told BasketballInsiders.com's Alex Kennedy. "I want to play for a championship."
The Raptors, first and foremost, want to gain entry into the brat pack of NBA teams that's worth second, third and fourth looks. Lowry, loyal and optimistic, has brought them within reach of that acceptance.
It's only right they give him the opportunity to carry them toward the finish line.