Whenever you can retain a premium unrestricted free agent, especially as a non-traditional destination for star players, you'll take it.
The Toronto Raptors have seen their fair share of stars leave over the years, including Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh, but the ability to re-sign Kyle Lowry to a long-term deal with contenders swarming speaks volumes about the direction the franchise is headed.
Kyle Lowry has agreed to a 4 year, $48M contract to stay with Toronto, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 3, 2014
Masai Ujiri is a very talented general manager for a lot of reasons, and this is one of them. Instead of losing an asset for virtually nothing but vacated cap space, Ujiri was able to convince Lowry to stay in Toronto, just like he did with Arron Afflalo, Nene and a handful of other free agents while he was with the Denver Nuggets.
Maybe the best part about this particular deal, however, is that Ujiri didn't have to overpay. Given the crazy status of the market (Jodie Meeks getting three years and $19 million?), paying in the range most had Lowry projected for is a steal, especially since Toronto is just beginning to fully turn things around.
Lowry was unquestionably one of the best point guards in the league last season, and this was the best year of his career.
While that would typically raise some red flags about a contract season performance, for the first time ever, Lowry was handed the keys to the offense and didn't have to look over his shoulder and worry about sharing time with another point guard. With a solidified role and more maturity, he came to play.
Lowry was rewarded for his performance with a nice payday, but not an unreasonable one by any means. Here's Sam Amick of USA Today:
The deal falls in line with others for similar-level point guards in recent years. The Denver Nuggets' Ty Lawson also signed for four years and $48 million, while Golden State Warriors All-Star Stephen Curry received four years and $44 million but was coming off an injury-plagued season. By contrast, the Brooklyn Nets signed point guard Deron Williams to a five-year deal worth nearly $99 million in 2012.
Stephen Curry is probably the best value contract we've seen signed in a few years, and given the vastly different circumstances, it's not fair to compare the two. Unrestricted free agency typically inflates contracts quite a bit, so Toronto did well to get Lowry where they did.
Besides, it's important that the Raptors kept the momentum moving in a positive direction. What kind of message would it send to other free agents and current Raptors players if Lowry jumped ship to go elsewhere? Or if Ujiri simply let him walk or traded him right away? Toronto needs to shake the stigma of being a weigh station-type destination, and keeping Lowry should help in that regard.
The organization and their fans needed a win in free agency for once, and keeping Lowry provides that.
Here's James Herbert at CBSSports.com:
At Lowry's end-of-season availability, he said that he could see himself back in Toronto. At that point he wasn't willing to commit to anything, but he said he loved the situation and the chemistry of the team.
"It's very difficult, but at the end of the day it's still a business and you have to be a businessman for the situation that you're in," Lowry said. "But I am very happy. This has been one of the best seasons I've had through and through. Best coaches, teammates, upstairs. It's been great. I am happy. Without a doubt I can say I'm happy."
With a $12-million-per-season contract offer, the only way you could see Lowry turning the Raptors down would be if he wanted to go chase a championship. Instead of latching on somewhere else, though, he's elected to build on the success he had last season. Toronto has to be relieved, as losing him would have been a massive step backward.
Lowry's talent level has never been questioned, and he showed what he's capable of doing on both ends when he's engaged and motivated. Alongside DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors now have a backcourt for the future locked in. Lowry can provide penetration, efficient perimeter shooting and great on-ball defense and rebounding, while DeRozan can focus on pure scoring and post play, which are his two biggest strengths.
Given the state of the Eastern Conference, with the right supplementary moves and the continued development of young players like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto can be a mainstay for years to come.
That's a big deal for a franchise that has gone through some nasty times of late, and keeping the fanbase satisfied is always a good idea. Lowry will be a movable asset if things ever take a turn for the worse, but that would be a bit of a surprise. Remember, Lowry had options and was by no means obligated to return, but he made his decision.
Kyle Lowry tells Yahoo: "Toronto is just the right place for me."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 3, 2014
While Toronto still has plenty of work to do in order to become a legitimate contender, the foundation is in place and one of the league's best players last year is back. Toronto was one of the toughest teams in the league last year after Rudy Gay was dealt, and that was in large part because of Lowry's ability to score and distribute in a bigger role.
There is some risk involved in this deal just based on Lowry's past and the large supply of competent point guards available, but Toronto was in no position to take a step back and squash the momentum and support they built with last year's playoff run. There's plenty of reason for optimism now that Lowry is back in Toronto.