Why 2014-15 NBA Season Will Be Most Important of Kyle Lowry’s Career

Kyle Lowry has never been here before.

The Toronto Raptors point guard has been in the NBA for eight years, but he’s never stared down a season as important as 2014-15.

It isn’t a contract year. It isn’t a redemption campaign during which Lowry will look to rebuild his image or successfully stave off injuries that derailed him the season before.

This is different from anything he’s ever faced.

For the first time in his career, Lowry isn’t looking for or trying to establish something new. He’s attempting to sustain what he’s built and prove things are different by ensuring they stay the same.


Inspiring 2013-14

Last season was Lowry at his absolute best, and he was compensated accordingly.

Toronto handed him a four-year, $48 million contract after he led the franchise to its first playoff appearance since 2008 and first Atlantic Division title since 2007.

To get there, to reach the playoffs and leave lottery demons behind, Lowry and the Raptors had to defy logic.

They were among those accused of tanking. Trading Rudy Gay didn’t help. It was only a matter of time before Lowry followed his exit, becoming another pawn in general manager Masai Ujiri‘s team-maiming game.

Scenarios were in place, according to Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling. Lowry could have been traded to the New York Knicks. He could have been traded elsewhere.

But he wasn’t.

Collective success forced the Raptors to reconsider, and Zwerling writes that Lowry’s continued development ultimately made him indispensable:

During the trade talks, the Raptors observed continued growth with Lowry, which stemmed from motivational conversations in the summer with his two closest mentors in the NBA, Tyronn Lue and Chauncey Billups. According to the source, Billups told Lowry, “You’re screwing up a great opportunity in the NBA.”

Whatever was said to Lowry stuck. The Raptors won 48 games, and he set career highs in points per game (17.9), assists per game (7.4), three-point shooting percentage (38), player efficiency rating (20.1) and win shares (11.7).

Long before the trade deadline passed, it became clear Lowry was the unquestioned leader of the surprising Raptors. He was an All-Star snub, a dark-horse MVP candidate. He was one of the best—if not the bestpoint guards in the Eastern Conference.

Leading into next season, he’s expected to do it all over again and overcome what has been his biggest problem over the years: recurring success.


Establishing Continuity

This was only the second time Lowry made the playoffs, and it was the first time he did so as an everyday starter.

His per-game numbers and availability have fluctuated since 2010. His status is fluid. What he brings has never been guaranteed.

“He also has yet to prove that he can string together several exceptionally productive seasons in a row,” Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb wrote in July. “There’s a very real chance that we just witnessed the kind of season that won’t be repeated any time soon.”

Indeed, Lowry’s 2013-14 can be something of a red flag because of how good it was. Roughly 28.5 percent of his career win shares came last season alone, making his performance an anomaly as it pertains to the rest of his NBA pilgrimage.

Lowry’s undefined ability to duplicate that success is what rendered him a hot trade commodity in the first place.

The Raptors had no desire to pay him as of mid-February, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge. They didn’t want to give him Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson or Jrue Holiday money.

Something inevitably changed. Lowry went nowhere and the Raptors were rewarded for retaining him…last season.

But what about next season?

Can Lowry finish in the top 10 of win shares again? Will he once more join superstars like Chris PaulJohn Wall and Curry as one of only four players to average at least 17 points, four rebounds, seven assists and 1.5 steals per game?

Is last season’s Lowry the real Lowry or just a pleasant irregularity?

Statistical and general performance inconsistencies are littered throughout Lowry’s career. Next year is his chance to show the Raptors that the point guard they paid for and believe in is the one they’re going to get.


Moving On for Good

Next season has to be the season, too.

Second chances aren’t luxuries Lowry will enjoy much longer. At 28, eight years into his career, this is his shot—his last shot.

The Raptors are assuming all the risk here. They’ve put much of their future in the hands of a point guard who rose to the challenge for one year.

There is no evidence to suggest Lowry will follow his 2013-14 crusade with something equally impressive in 2014-15. All the Raptors have is his word and their faith.

It was only one year ago when he struggled to remain healthy and shoot 40 percent from the field. It was only months ago when the Raptors wereapparentlyplanning for a future without him.

Now he’s their franchise cornerstone, brandishing unparalleled control over where the team goes next.

And, like Daniel Reynolds of Raptors HQ says, the path Toronto is traveling down feels right:

For the first time in forever, the Raptors feel like a franchise with identity and direction. No longer is the franchise running in circles with endless course corrections just to remain mediocre. The new front office — led by Masai Ujiri — have expressed confidence in the core of this team and demonstrated it by bringing them all back. The Raptors quietly went about their business of retaining their division winning roster, and now, a few months before the start of next season, the question becomes: could they be on the verge of reaching a new pinnacle?

Tweaks have been made, additional talent has been acquired and trades have been struck. However, the 2014-15 Raptors are largely the same team being held to different standards.

Any progress they make will be the result of internal improvement and stability. The Raptors are betting the core they have in place is the foundation for something even better than last season.

Headlining that core, propping up that foundation, is Lowry, the longtime question mark now enjoying the perks of stardom while ferrying the beliefs and ambitions of an entire franchise.

“He really just proved to the league and to the ownership and to the other teams that wanted him in free agency that he was for real, and ‘This is who I am,’” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told Zwerling.

To that end, Lowry is still a question mark. Last year’s Lowry may be the real Lowry, but continuity is the key. He has to prove himself again.

Never before has he been lauded so mightily or trusted so strongly. Never before has the real Lowry been expected to do so much or have a ceiling so high.

If that’s who he is—someone worthy of such assumptions—2013-14 will happen all over again, and Lowry’s new, much-improved status will reveal itself as a tried-and-true certainty.

Not a potential illusion.


Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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Former UK player Kyle Wiltjer on Olynyk path at Gonzaga

Gonzaga’s strength coach has transformed tall, wiry players before.



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Kyle Lowry Finally Finds NBA Home in Toronto, Signs 4-Year Contract with Raptors

He’ll never share the high-most headlines with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but for a few short weeks in late June and early July, Kyle Lowry’s name wasn’t far below the NBA fold.

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.

Even so, as free agency officially got underway, USA Today’s Sam Amick cited the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat as potential Lowry suitors.

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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Report: Kyle Lowry chooses to re-sign with Raptors

After flirting with potential moves to other NBA cities, free agent point guard Kyle Lowry has re-signed with the Toronto Raptors on a four-year, $48 million contract. Lowry was a potential fit for the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. In the end, he chose to stay with a Raptors team that surprised a lot of people last year.  Kyle Lowry has agreed to a 4 year, $48M contract to stay with Toronto, sources tell Yahoo. — Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 3, 2014 Lowry averaged 17.9 points and 7.4 assists per game for the Raptors last season. He was considered one of the top free agent point guards on the market. This has to be considered a coup for Toronto, who was preparing for the possibility that Lowry would bolt for the bright lights of Los Angeles or Miami. Photo: CBS Sports   The post Report: Kyle Lowry to Remain With the Toronto Raptors appeared first on Sportsnaut.com.

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Kyle Lowry and Raptors Agree on 4-Year Contract: Latest Details and Analysis

Eight-year veteran point guard Kyle Lowry has signed a four-year deal with the Toronto Raptors.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski provides details on Lowry’s signing:

Lowry also announced things on Instagram:

A late first-round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006, Lowry took some time to develop into an NBA starter. Over his first four seasons, he had a lot of playing time but started just 30 games overall. 

He finally came into his own during the 2010-11 season with the Houston Rockets, averaging 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game as a full-time starter.

That was only the beginning.

Last season, Lowry put up career bests in all three of those categories with the Toronto Raptors. He started 79 games and averaged 17.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game while shooting 42.3 percent from the field and a career-high 38.0 percent from downtown.

Trey Kerby of NBA TV tweeted an interesting comparison between Lowry and Washington Wizards star John Wall:

Lowry’s surge can be attributed to his work ethic. He’s consistently striving to improve—a trait that goes back to his childhood, according to a tweet from Hoops Hype Canada:

That determination showed in Toronto.

Lowry was instrumental in the Raptors’ most successful season in over a decade. His presence gave the team the necessary tools to compete with more experienced or star-studded squads, and he led the team in both assists and steals per game.

Not only did Lowry look great during the regular season, but he was also stellar during Toronto’s playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. A tweet from NBA TV really sums it up:

Coming off his career season, the 28-year-old Lowry will have an immediate impact at the point guard position. A top-shelf starter, he not only has the skill set to flourish, but also has the endurance to remain on the court for the long haul—he averaged a career-high 36.2 minutes per game in 2013-14.

Retaining Lowry makes Toronto’s backcourt a major strength going forward. With his ability to score from the outside and create open looks for his teammates, expect the Raptors to light up scoreboards in short order.

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Lakers Rumors: Latest Buzz Surrounding Carmelo Anthony, Kyle Lowry and More

The Los Angeles Lakers wasted no time throwing their considerable weight around as soon as the 2014 NBA free-agency period began. With a number of star players readily available this summer, this glamorous franchise will be looking to quickly erase the bitter feelings lingering after its disastrous 2013-14 campaign.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak will have to do his best to sell prospective players on the idea of plying their trade on a Los Angeles team that currently has a bare-bones roster and features two aging stars in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Then again, he can always focus on the allure and prestige of playing in the nation’s second-largest media market for a team that has won 16 NBA championships.

Here is the latest on three players who could be playing in purple and gold next season.


Lakers Likely Set for a Meeting with Carmelo Anthony

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reports that the Lakers are likely due to sit down with Carmelo Anthony on Thursday:

Teams will be fighting tooth and nail to land Anthony and his career average of 25.3 points per game this summer. Anthony’s myriad scoring abilities are sorely needed by franchises like the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls.

Anthony has yet to win an NBA championship and could be looking for a situation that offers an opportunity to take the Larry O’Brien Trophy. If Kupchak‘s recent comments are any indication, Bryant is still a major part of his championship sell.

“We’re still going to pitch that this is a championship franchise and that’s going to be our goal,” Kupchak said, via the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan. “As long as Kobe [Bryant] is on this team, we have to believe that we can contend for a championship.”

A championship in Los Angeles might be a difficult idea for Anthony to process without a head coach in place. However, as USA Today‘s Sam Amick put it before the NBA draft, that is part of the Lakers’ strategy:

As the Lakers see it, it’s not a necessity to have a coach in time for the June 26 draft, in which they’ll pick seventh overall. And while they’re not willing to let a star player pick the coach, keeping the vacancy open would allow any possible players who sign with them to offer some input into the process.

The Lakers are a tempting destination for the likes of Anthony, but they may find it difficult to recruit players of his caliber with so much of their personnel situation in limbo. The Bulls have a strong head coach in Tom Thibodeau and young stars in Derrick Rose (albeit still an injury concern) and Joakim Noah to lure in the big names on the market.


Is Lowry Considering a Lakers Sit-Down?

CBS Sports’ Ken Berg reports that point guard Kyle Lowry is mulling his options and could meet with the Los Angeles Lakers:

The Lakers would definitely have to sell Lowry on the long-term potential of the franchise and not on the next year or so, unless they can promise another high-caliber free agent is coming in. 

It might be difficult for Lowry to see where he fits on this team. The Lakers currently have Nash on the books for next season as well as a team option for point guard Kendall Marshall.

The team could feasibly still decline Marshall’s option, but as Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters notes, the team is including him on its Summer League roster:

This means Marshall and his cheap contract could easily figure into the Lakers’ future plans.

Neither one of those players can match the 17.9 points and 7.4 assists per game Lowry averaged in 2013-14. He just turned 28 and should be hitting his peak years as an NBA player, which means the Lakers would have to be confident that the soft-bellied Lowry can remain a viable option into his early 30s for him to fit into their long-term plans.

Likewise, Lowry would need to trust the Lakers can build a team around him at point guard. If Kupchak can get Lowry’s attention, he would prove to be vital component for a strong foundation in Lakerland.


Kent Bazemore Generating Interest

Kent Bazemore was known more for his hilarious antics on the bench with the Golden State Warriors than for any particular set of skills on the court. His midseason move to the Lakers last year did wonders for his numbers.

Bazemore got a big boost playing in former coach Mike D’Antoni’s high-paced offense and demonstrated that he deserves some more time on the hardwood.

According to Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy, the Lakers could be interested in bringing Bazemore back into the fold, but they will have to fend off a number of other suitors to do so:

The Lakers might not want to get into a bidding war for Bazemore if they are to keep cap space clear for big-name free agents. Bazemore‘s last deal was a two-year contract worth $1.2 million, per Spotrac.com. If the Lakers can hold on to him for a similar price, he could again be a solid, left-handed option off the bench for the team.

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Heat Rumors: Latest on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Kyle Lowry

The Miami Heat have some retooling to do this offseason after losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals, and with pretty much nobody under contract at the start of the offseason, things could be much different in South Beach next season.

After two NBA championships in four years, the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all without contracts. 

All three could technically find new homes (however unlikely that may be), and that would drastically change the landscape of the NBA. There’s already stuff in the works, however, so Heat fans shouldn’t start getting upset just yet.

Below, you’ll find the latest rumors regarding the franchise.


LeBron James

The game’s best player is on the open market, and that means there will likely be a bidding war for his services. Prior to 2010, he signed with the Heat without a max contract. That won’t happen this time around, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

“Teams that contact James will be informed that he wants no less than the maximum salary number for next season, sources said. The max number for James is projected to be about $20.7 million.”

There are certainly going to be many teams lining up to offer James a max deal. ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted about two teams that might be in the mix:

Obviously, there are others.

James could always go home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but Miami is probably still the front-runner. They offer James the best chance to go back to the Finals. Even though Norris Cole is the only one under contract, Miami will still put a competitive roster on the court next season.

Many players from last season’s team will return, and that will help lure LeBron back.

It will take a grand sales pitch from another organization to steal James from the Heat.


Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh

Speaking of bringing talent back, the Heat may already be gearing up to bring back Wade and Bosh:

If those two take pay cuts, the team can sign James and still have money left over to make some moves. Guys like Shawn Marion and Vince Carter would be stellar fits, and they’ll have the money to spend if they want to make it happen.

Wade’s decision to opt out should have led us to believe that he’ll be back for another run at the title. At this stage in his career, Wade isn’t worth the money he was making. By opting out, he accepted the fact that he’ll be making less money in order to have a chance at winning.

Miami needs all the help it can get. Wade can’t be relied upon heavily anymore, so a trio of Bosh, James and Wade really isn’t a Big Three any longer. It’s still three talented stars, but Wade’s knees are quickly diminishing his abilities on the hardwood.

I like the idea of bringing all three players back if Wade and Bosh take less money. The Heat need some flexibility to make moves.


Kyle Lowry

Mario Chalmers and Cole were adequate last season. Chalmers will probably walk in free agency, and Cole could be dealt for cap space. That leaves Shabazz Napier as the only point guard on the roster, and it would create a need for another signing.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that Miami could be gearing up to make a run at Kyle Lowry:

Lowry was a big reason for the Toronto Raptors‘ success last season, and he has established himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA due to his recent play. Of course, that means he’s in line for a big contract.

Assuming Wade, Bosh and James return, it will be very hard to fit in Lowry’s contract and sign more depth. Lowry himself might have to take less money than initially planned in order to play for Miami.

Throwing Lowry into the mix would be a great move for the Heat, as he is the perfect facilitator to distribute the ball between the three stars. I love this move if it can be made.


Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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Report: Houston Rockets Making Early Push to Reunite with Kyle Lowry

Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets have a flair for the dramatic, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they started making waves just minutes into the free-agent negotiating period early Tuesday morning. 

According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Houston’s general manager has wasted no time pursuing the former Rocket point guard, who most recently suited up for the Toronto Raptors:  

Additionally, NBA.com’s David Aldridge reports that if the Rockets are going to agree to terms with Lowry (no deals can officially be signed until the league’s negotiating moratorium comes to a close on July 10), they’d like to do so in a timely fashion:

Aldridge also notes that Rockets head coach Kevin McHale made an appearance at the team’s pitch, which could signal just how high a priority the club is making Lowry: 

On the surface, Houston’s interest in Lowry may be slightly surprising, but we should have seen this coming, as the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen noted on Monday that the team would have interest in free agency’s most coveted floor general: 

The Rockets are expected to take a run at their former point guard Kyle Lowry, though the Raptors hope to reach agreement to keep him before the Rockets or other teams would have a chance to know where they stand with their initial targets.

And although they couldn’t beat the Rockets to the punch, the Raptors will get their shot. 

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Toronto’s brass has a meeting on the books with Lowry shortly after his session with the Rockets concludes: 

It’s also worth noting that Lowry made his long-term goals clear to Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy just last week: 

I think the right situation is somewhere I’m winning and being happy, and honestly I want to play for a championship, Lowry told Basketball Insiders. 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. I want to play for a championship.

With those championship aspirations in mind, it’s hard not to think that the Rockets could emerge as front-runners in due time. 

A potential Lowry reunion would give the Rockets tremendous depth at point guard, particularly when you consider that Patrick Beverley is on the books at an unguaranteed $915,243 for next season, according to ShamSports

With the Rockets apparently dreaming of a one-two punch capable of hounding opposing ball-handlers for 48 minutes, it’s already abundantly clear that Morey intends to keep his foot on the gas as free agency gets underway. 

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

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.

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 they have 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.

According to the league’s CBA, 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.

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.

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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Source: Heat-Raptors Deal for Kyle Lowry ‘Imminent’

An agreement in principle on a deal that would send point guard Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors to the Miami Heat is “imminent,” a league source with direct knowledge of the negotiations said Friday.

The deal, which will consist of the Raptors signing and trading Lowry in exchange for Heat point guard Norris Cole, cash and a combination of future draft picks, can’t be officially consummated until sometime after July 1 because Miami is currently over the salary cap and must sort out its position with its existing core of superstars—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But James already has opted out of the remaining two years of his Heat contract and the team is aggressively looking to upgrade its point-guard position to persuade James to return. Miami traded up to acquire University of Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier in Thursday night’s NBA draft, but apparently aren’t stopping there to show James he will not have to carry the same ball-handling and playmaking duties as he did during the team’s failed attempt to snare a third consecutive championship this past season. 

Regardless of how the discussions go with James, Wade and Bosh, however, “Lowry will be a member of the Heat” next season, the source said. The Heat’s grand plan is to transform its Big Three into a Big Four that would include Knicks free agent Carmelo Anthony, multiple league sources have said. The addition of Lowry, though, could mean only part of the current Big Three comprises the new quartet.

Lowry, a nine-year veteran, put up career highs in points (17.9 per game), assists (7.4), rebounds (4.7) and starts (79) to help Toronto make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with a franchise-record 48 wins. The exact terms of his deal are being worked out, but its value will be $9-$10 million a year for at least three years. He made roughly $6.2 million this past season.

Ongoing concerns within the Raptors organization that Lowry’s notable improvement was inspired by his pending free agency and mutual interest between Lowry and the Heat prompted the three parties—Toronto, Miami and Lowry—to work toward a mutually beneficial agreement. 

“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 Basketball Insiders this week. “I want to play for a championship.”

Coming to terms on a deal as early as possible allows both teams to know exactly where they stand and act quickly when free agency begins.

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri knows all too well the perils of going into the summer uncertain about a superstar with an expiring contract. He served as an assistant GM when Chris Bosh bolted Toronto to join James and Wade in Miami in 2010. Shortly thereafter he was hired away by the Denver Nuggets as their VP of basketball operations and presided over dealing presumptive free agent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks less than a year later.

Bosh now is expected to follow James into free agency by opting out of the remaining two years of his Heat contract, the source said, and the Raptors intend to meet with him to gauge his interest in returning to Toronto.

The attraction for Bosh to Toronto would be a more significant role and a longer-term deal with the Raptors. Were he to stay in Miami and the pursuit of Anthony prove successful, Bosh would be looking at a significant pay cut and remaining the third option, if not possibly sliding to the fourth, offensively. Bosh has repeatedly stated that he’d like to stay in Miami, but rival GMs and executives have indicated that if the Heat’s current Big Three were broken up, they have believed that Bosh would be the one to leave.


Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.


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