Kyle Lowry and the Raptors have had nine fruitful years together, and through them, they’ve shared a plethora of incredible memories that Canadian basketball fans, nor Lowry himself will ever forget. Lowry’s first season playing in the North was the only one during the Kyle Lowry era in which the Raptors didn’t qualify for the playoffs> After that rough start (if you can even call it that), the dinos went on a seven-year-long rampage, destroying record after record, imprinting their name in every basketball history book, earning the longest active streak in the league for consecutive playoff appearances, and of course – winning an NBA Championship. Everybody and their grandmother’s cat already knew this, but Kyle Lowry led the Raptors franchise to new heights.
This season, when the Raptors were dropped in Flordia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, rumours began circulating before the preseason even concluded that Lowry could be traded. His ability to be so impactful on winning yet play as a low-usage point guard, and be a tremendous leader in the locker room were attracting phone calls from several contenders – namely, the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Then, 44 regular season games passed, the Raptors looked like skeleton of what they were supposed to be, and Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster got to dialing. The night before the trade deadline – when the Raptors blew out the Denver Nuggets – Kyle Lowry infamously walked back to the Raptors locker room with tears falling down his cheeks, and gave a peace out to the camera, sending Twitter into a frenzy that he may have played his last game in red and white.
An awkward 24 hours later, the only Raptors who were sent out the door were Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, and Terence Davis Jr. Daryl Morey, the Sixers’ President of Basketball Operations, suggested that Masai Ujiri’s asking price for Lowry was too high, likely because Lowry will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and could walk for nothing. Still, it’s asinine of executives like Morey to not use the championship window that’s available to him, and do everything within his power to acquire a player of Lowry’s pedigree, who would ultimately make them title favourites.
Lowry will now see out the rest of the season as a Raptor. The question now is what this Raptors team could look like without Lowry, going into next season.
Lowry will be free agent this summer, as will Masai Ujiri. These two have been key components of the Raptors success over the last nine years, both having joined the organization during the early 2010’s.
Right now, the Raptors are in a limbo with regards to their future. They didn’t trade Lowry for any new pieces or draft picks which would’ve helped them build a foundation to move on from, while Ujiri’s long-term role with the team is in question.
Having Lowry see out the end of the season as a Raptor signified that Toronto would be likely to make a playoff push, however with the team resting Pascal Siakam last night, and OG Anunoby tonight (when the Montreal-native, Khem Birch, plans to make his Raptors debut), it seems like tanking may not be out of the question. Somehow, the Raptors need to make sense of keeping Kyle. They’re lurking outside the play-in tournament, and they are five games behind the enter into the eighth seed. It’s feasible that they could get there, but it’ll be a big ask for this team, especially with so many key players out of the lineup. Making the finals isn’t what’s being asked of this Raptors team. It is largely about the team asking of themselves what it is they want, and seeing where they end up.
As aforementioned, the trade deadline wasn’t all quiet for the Raptots. The big splash that they made was sending Norman Powell to the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for Rodney Hood and Gary Trent Jr.
Going forward, the Raptors look like they’ll have a decent young core comprised of OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Malachi Flynn, and Gary Trent Jr. All five are good players, and retaining all five of them long term is certainly feasible. Are they good enough to win a championship though? Barring any massive leaps in their game, probably not.
In the East
The East is in a strange place at the moment. There are standout teams and there are lottery teams who could quite easily push themselves into playoff spots.
The Celtics continue to be, despite their talented roster, an underperforming team. Jayson Tatum is a star already and is destined for more, while Jaylen Brown is on a trajectory to becoming an elite NBA two-way wing. Kemba Walker – the point-guard who was seen as the best fit – seems to be generating more questions than answers in his second year with the team.
The Bucks, Sixers, and Nets will be at the top of this side of the NBA for the next couple of years at minimum.
The Hornets are the surprise team this season, boasting significant improvement after trading for the Celtics’ Hayward, seeing Terry Rozier become a more efficient scorer, and drafting LaMelo Ball who is slated to win Rookie of the Year.
The Knicks are good, which is a statement that shocks many. They are a team filled with young talent, boasting the likes of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, who hope to lead the franchise through their next era. This is still the Knicks, though, so who knows how it’ll end up.
The Raptors, then, are a team in flux. This has its positives in that they can be flexible, reactive, and see how the free agency market shapes up. However, it has its obvious downsides: they are not being proactive. What’s arguably most important for this team now is to tie down Ujiri.