Now, after an eight-year stretch rife with ill fits, roster politics and off-court caustics, Kyle Lowry has finally found a home:
Just days removed from initiating a trade that sent John Salmons to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for combo guard Lou Williams and prospect Lucas Nogueira (per ESPN's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst)—a move many saw as hedging against Lowry’s departure—the Raptors now have their undisputed point guard of the future.
Following a surprising 48-win season that saw the Raptors make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, hopes are high that Toronto’s young core of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas can become a perennial threat in the East.
For Lowry, Wednesday’s announcement marked a moment nearly a decade in the making.
Taken with the No. 24 pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2006 draft, Lowry spent his first two seasons toiling in obscurity as a backup to rotating point guard cast that included Damon Stoudamire, Chucky Atkins, Juan Carlos Navarro and 2007 lottery pick Mike Conley.
Lowry was eventually traded at the 2009 deadline to the Houston Rockets, where over the course of the next two seasons his steady playmaking and heady scoring ability earned him a spot as a full-time starter.
But a spat with head coach Kevin McHale, spurred by concerns that teammate Goran Dragic was usurping Lowry’s role as the team’s principal playmaker, quickly compromised the latter’s long-term prospects, according (per the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen).
“I don’t think so,” said Lowry of the prospects of co-existing with the ascendant Dragic. “I honestly think it would be tough. Things have to be addressed. The situation would have to be addressed. If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved.”
This, coupled with assault charges stemming from an on-court altercation with a female referee during a pickup game the previous September (per Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin), all but assured Lowry’s eventual departure from Houston.
That formality finally came to pass on July 11, 2012, when Lowry was shipped to Toronto in exchange for Gary Forbes and a 2013 first-round pick (the Oklahoma City Thunder eventually took Steven Adams).
Forbes hasn’t played an NBA game since.
Once again, Lowry found himself competing for the starting point guard position, this time with cagey veteran Jose Calderon. And while the two’s split-duty arrangement didn’t boast quite the off-court fireworks Lowry experienced in Houston, the situation was precarious enough to compel CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, in January 2013, to write that Lowry had “worn out his welcome in Toronto.”
But after Calderon signed as a free agent with the Dallas Mavericks last summer, Lowry—for the first time since his second year in Houston—finally, it seemed, had a team to call his own.
Even with former New Orleans Hornets sparkplug Greivis Vasquez in the fray, it didn’t take long for Lowry to assert himself as Toronto’s unquestioned floor general.
The result: a career year in which Lowry charted career highs in points, rebounds, assists, three-point percentage and player efficiency rating. More importantly, Lowry’s leadership helped catapult the moribund Raptors to home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite his borderline All-Star performance, however, Lowry never quite escaped the specter of trade rumors:
As the season wound down, speculation abounded that Lowry wasn’t long for Toronto. No doubt jaded by yet another turn round the rumor mill, Lowry confided in Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski his regrets about how he handled himself in Houston:
I would have done things differently in Houston. I really respected Kevin McHale. I wish I would have had an opportunity to play for him longer. The things he was teaching me, well, I didn't understand right away. When you get away from someone, though, see it from the outside looking in, you go back and think, 'Damn, I could've learned some more things from the guy.'
Lowry's contrition wasn't lost on Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports, the company that owns the Raptors, who just weeks later told George Stroumboulopoulos he fully intended to re-sign the mercurial point guard.
Then, with the NBA blogosphere fully in the reactive throes of the Carlos Boozer amnesty news (per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times), Lowry’s near-future fate was formally, finally secured.
Just hours before the news of Lowry’s signing broke, Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale highlighted the positive long-term ramifications at stake for Toronto:
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.
Or they could inch closer to everything they've been chasing.
Depending on whether the Raptors exercise their $7 million team option on Amir Johnson, Toronto will either be a few million dollars over or a few million dollars under the salary cap. And while the team still has its mini mid-level exception ($2 million) to spend, it’s likely this year’s Raptors incarnation will be much the same as last year’s: a solid core highlighted by youth-laden upside.
Better still, should Toronto exercise its team options on Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, the Raptors will have just $34 million in committed salaries heading into what could be an equally shape-shifting free-agent class in 2015.
As the franchise’s fortunes unfold further, much will be made of the Raptors’ homegrown trio of DeRozan, Valanciunas and Ross—three players who’ve managed to approximate, if not outright meet, their expectations.
In Lowry, Toronto may have found a fourth.
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