It seems like it was just yesterday when we were all glued to our television sets, tuned into CP24’s live helicopter cam, trying to figure out if the trio of black Cadillac Escalades gliding down the Don Valley Parkway were indeed carrying Kawhi Leonard and Uncle Dennis to their meeting with the Toronto Raptors. Albeit a lower magnitude of impact on the Raptors’ future this time around, and less stressful, we find ourselves in a similar position.
The greatest Raptor of all time, Kyle Lowry, is set to hit unrestricted free agency tomorrow at 6:00pm EST. Due to the Chris Paul effect, many teams are lining up to recruit Lowry’s services, hoping he can help them take a leap from playoff contention to title contention. It is rumoured around the league that the deciding factor in Lowry’s free agency will be how much money he can earn. The teams that have been linked to Lowry include the Miami Heat, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Dallas Mavericks. After a flurry of trades that have been agreed upon in the past week, let’s see how each of these teams can forge a practical route to signing the six-time NBA All-Star.
Sports Illustrated’s Grant Afesth reported yesterday that the Heat are frontrunners to sign Lowry. They could create the cap space to sign Lowry outright by declining the team options on Andre Iguodala and Goran Dragic, and by renouncing their rights to Victor Oladipo, Trevor Ariza, Nemanja Bjelicia, and essentially everybody else with a cap hold under $2M. By facilitating all of these transactions, the Heat would be left with the guaranteed contracts of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Precious Achiuwa, and KZ Okpala, while retaining the rights to restricted free agents Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson. This would leave the Heat with a maximum practical cap space of $23.9M.
They could of course increase this number by renouncing their rights to Kendrick Nunn or Duncan Robinson. The other alternative would be to sign-and-trade for Lowry, whereby the Heat could send Achiuwa and Okpala to Toronto, creating enough room to pay Lowry $28.4M. This would mandate that Lowry has a third year added to his deal (although it would not have to be guaranteed), and it would hard cap the Heat for the 2021-2022 season.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have been aggressive in trying to find cap space to sign Lowry. Most notably, they dealt Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams to the Grizzlies last week, and took back Jonas Valanciunas, which created an additional $20.2M in cap space. If they were to renounce the rights to restricted free agents Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, and renounce their bird rights to James Johnson, they could theoretically create $36M in cap space. Yesterday, they tendered qualifying offers to both Ball and Hart, which is seen as a precautionary measure to keep the players in New Orleans if Lowry decides to go elsewhere. If they were able to negotiate a deal with Lowry for under $36M, they could pull their qualifying offers to Ball and Hart (as long as it ‘s before August 13th), and they would still be able to sign Lowry outright. The Pelicans remain a bit of a longshot to sign Lowry, however they’re going to do whatever they can to make the playoffs next year, and keep their budding superstar, Zion Williamson happy.
The Mavericks have the easiest route of any of these teams to creating enough cap space to add Lowry to their core. Even without offloading the $31.7M salary of Kristaps Porzingis – who has been rumoured to be available for trade – they could renounce the rights to Tim Hardaway Jr., Nicolo Melli, J.J. Redick, and Boban Marjanovic, and decline their team option on Willie Cauley-Stein to create upwards of $34M in cap room. If they were to find a place to dump Porzingis’ contract, they could retain the rights to Tim Hardaway Jr., sign Lowry, and then go above to soft cap to retain Hardaway using his bird rights.
Time to bring back the, “Philadelphia should have traded for Lowry at the deadline” tweets, because they truly should have. Their path to acquiring the greatest Raptor of all-time has now become so complicated that one might even deem it infeasible. While the Sixers may have been Lowry’s preferred destination if the salary cap didn’t exist, it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to land him now. Even by guaranteeing the contract of George Hill and sending him back to Toronto along with Seth Curry in a sign-and-trade (which the Raptors would have to agree to), the Sixers would not be able to offer Lowry a contract in excess of $20M annually, which is an offer that he and his agent wouldn’t even bother to negotiate. The most (and only) feasible route for the Sixers to land Lowry would be by signing and trading Ben Simmons – either to the Raptors, or by working a third team into the mix. Given Daryl Morey’s exorbitant asking price for the 25-year-old defensive stud, it seems unlikely that a Simmons trade could be completed prior to Lowry’s decision – which could come as early as tomorrow.
In Bobby Webster’s post-draft interview, he was asked about the elephant in the room – not Masai Ujiri’s free agency, but rather Kyle Lowry’s. As expected, his answer was vague, but he made it clear that Toronto was going to work with Kyle Lowry to do what he wanted: whether it was helping to facilitate a deal to land him elsewhere, giving him the organization’s blessing to leave them outright, or bringing him back on a short-term contract. While the comment seems transparent on the surface, it sounds unlike what an executive would say if they were desperate to re-sign their star player. Typically, when one of the Raptors All-Stars has hit the open market, we’ve become accustomed to hearing that keeping them is the team’s “top priority,” as it was with Fred VanVleet last summer. The same tunes weren’t echoed this time around, which reinforces the belief that Lowry is probably going to play for another team next season. If you’re rooting for the Raptors to get something in return, you should be hoping that Lowry decides to sign with the Heat or the Sixers for a price that they can’t afford, as that would necessitate them sending the Raptors something in return.