Kyle Lowry is a Toronto Raptor.
That would have been true, spiritually, forever. Even if a deadline trade had sent him to parts unknown and replaced that Raps jersey with another in a literal sense, Lowry was too great an icon and too beloved for his status as a Raptors lifer to change.
He the North, basically.
Lowry's continued (literal) presence in Toronto is a surprise. With the Raptors coming into Thursday having lost nine of their previous 10 games and sliding well below the class of real contenders in the East, and with Lowry's expiring deal set to make him an unrestricted free agent this summer, a move seemed like the most logical course.
Factor in what he could have brought to a title-chaser in another city, with Philadelphia top of mind, and the fact he stayed put feels even more improbable.
So, what does it all mean?
It's easier to parse the fallout from an actual trade. If Lowry had landed with the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers, we'd ask how he fits, how much he raises his new team's ceiling and whether the Raptors got enough in return.
A deal that doesn't happen? That's harder. We're evaluating inaction. How's that even possible?
The Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers sit atop the East standings, separated from the rest of the conference by a yawning win-percentage chasm. Only one other team in the conference is within seven games of a top-three spot: the Charlotte Hornets. That's quite a class divide. Neither the Bucks nor the Nets—asset-poor after swinging blockbuster moves long before the deadline—had the goods to land Lowry.
Yet they both emerge victoriously.
Had Lowry wound up with his hometown Sixers, who entered Thursday with a 1.5-game edge on both Milwaukee and Brooklyn in the standings, it could have solidified their grip on that top seed. We'll get to the Sixers' deadline move, which improved their roster, in a moment.
But let's not overthink this. Philadelphia is a direct competitor with the Bucks and Nets for playoff seeding, and it didn't make the move that could have put it over the top.
That's good news for the Bucks and Nets, who surely prefer the prospect of facing a Sixers team without a championship-tested uber-competitor at point guard.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
George Hill, who Philly acquired in a three-way deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, is going to help. The Sixers needed a steadying presence at the point who can hit an open three, defend both backcourt spots and generally reduce the highs and lows that come with giving many critical rotation minutes to Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey.
Hill makes just $9.6 million this year and has a partially guaranteed $10 million coming his way in 2021-22. Compared to Lowry's $30 million price tag this season and what will likely be the exorbitant cost to retain him in free agency, the Sixers can defensibly say they made the right value play.
But considering how briefly title windows stay open and how blindingly obvious the need for a player exactly like Lowry was, maybe we need to ditch the concept of marginal value here.
Perhaps the Sixers couldn't come up with the assets to sway Toronto, but that's a bit of a loss (or at least a failure of imagination) on its own. If this move was possible, and if the 76ers simply decided Hill at his price point was the better play than Lowry at his, well...that feels like a mistake.
Hill is a low-cost, moderate-return steward. He's safe. He's sensible. Admittedly, he addresses some of the needs Lowry would have. But he's not the culture-altering, ride-or-die, swashbuckling landscape-alterer Lowry is.
A team in the Sixers' position, one with a genuine shot at a ring, has to prioritize getting the guy over making the sound transactional decision. The cost would have been significant, but chips aren't cheap.
Winner: Miami Heat
They did it again, didn't they? The Heat, despite not landing Lowry, somehow won the long and short game all at once.
Nobody knows how the next handful of months will play out, but it's clear Miami improved its current roster at minimal cost without making any down-the-line compromises.
The Heat added a former All-NBA guard for next to nothing, which isn't the worst consolation prize.
Notably not heading out in that deal: any members of Miami's long-term core.
Some combination of Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Precious Achiuwa might have gone to Toronto for Lowry, but nobody of real consequence wound up with the Houston Rockets in the Oladipo deal.
Miami can now evaluate Oladipo's fit and fitness with the players he'd theoretically play alongside if he were to re-sign. If the Heat don't like what they see, they can incorporate him into a sign-and-trade or let him walk this summer, clearing room to sign...Lowry.
And no, the Heat probably aren't done.
Pat Riley never loses.
Loser: The Reliability of Communicative Hand Gestures
It seemed so clear after Wednesday's win over the Denver Nuggets. Lowry was telling us something, wasn't he?
What do deuces even mean anymore?
Winner: Kyle Lowry
Lowry and the *Tampa Bay* Raptors haven't really played a home game for months. Actually, they haven't really had a home, period.
Toronto arrived early to the Orlando bubble last season, stayed longer than many expected and then had to turn around and set up its home base in another Florida city for a second season. For Lowry, getting uprooted again might not have been worth the headache—even if staying put meant postponing a shot to join a big-time winner.
Now, Lowry will be in full control of the final chapter of his career. If he wants to stay with the Raptors, he can do that—assuming the feeling's mutual and the money's right. If he wants to join a contender elsewhere, that's an option, too. Either way, he'll be feted upon his eventual, inevitable return when he'll retire a Raptor.
Related: Maybe we shouldn't discount the possibility of Lowry sticking around on a new deal.
Some might construe the Raptors' swap of Norman Powell for Gary Trent Jr., first reported by Wojnarowski, as a future-focused concession—one a team with the goal of near-term contention wouldn't make. But there's a case to be made that adding Trent, who's only 22 and should be much cheaper to retain in 2021 free agency than Powell, makes a Lowry return likelier.
Trimming salary should make it easier to give Lowry a competitive offer without totally compromising flexibility. And Trent, given his youth and superior defense, might even outproduce Powell in 2021-22. Just sayin'...
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
Forget the chatter leading up to the deadline. Other than as a leverage-creating tool for Raptors president Masai Ujiri, the Los Angeles Lakers were never really in this thing.
Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Talen Horton-Tucker for Lowry? With no first-round picks anywhere to be seen?
Please. The Raptors were never doing that.
The buyout market will treat the Lakers better than most, and they're still the defending champs who'll get LeBron James and Anthony Davis back for the games that matter. Once all hands are on deck and healthy, it still might be safest to call Los Angeles the title favorite.
But when you compare what was ultimately L.A.'s best offer for Lowry to the packages Philly or Miami could have presented, it shows just how asset-poor last year's champions are. That's generally how it works for teams that sacrifice so much to get the top-end talent necessary for a title chase, but this was a low-key reminder that the Lakers have very limited options to improve the roster going forward.