As an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2021 offseason, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is no more sure than anyone else what his next move will be.
Since being acquired in 2012, no player has meant more to the Raptors organization as a whole than Lowry.
It’s widely agreed that the six-time All-Star is both the most beloved and greatest player in team history, with the 2019 championship run being a culmination of Lowry’s dedication to the franchise and a mutual belief that he’d be a key component in a title-winning side.
But at a Tuesday morning press conference that set an unofficial record for longest by a player in team history, Lowry stated that he’s still trying to figure out what his next move will be. There’s only one guarantee: he’s not retiring just yet.
“I still move like a young spring chicken,” Lowry said. “It’s the love, it’s the passion, it’s the game we all grew up playing. I legit love basketball… You’d still go out and play with your friends even if you weren’t getting paid.”
So we’ve got that much nailed down. The biggest question of all, though, is, where the heck does Kyle Lowry play next season?
The press conference didn’t offer a clear answer one way or the other.
“I still want more championships,” Lowry said. “I still have a lot more to give. I have a ton of basketball left in me. Money comes with that but championships are why I play.”
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The belief that he could win in Toronto explains the three different contracts he’s signed as a Raptor when free agency was previously an option.
It was evident listening to his answers that Lowry does definitely believe in the Raptors’ core pieces and their ability to get back to a competitive group.
“Our season didn’t end,” he said. “We just ran out of games to get back where we needed to get to.”
It’s clear that winning is a high priority — just like it’s always been throughout his career.
But the allure to pick his own destination for the first time in his career has to be tantalizing.
And before any rumours of him being a role player right now squeak out, let’s be clear: this is a guy who can still play with the best of them. He hasn’t come off the bench once since 2012-13, his first year as a Raptor. He put up more points per game this season than in 2018-19 when he won his first NBA title, saying Tuesday that Toronto is “always going to be home” to him.
Lowry’s not quite on the same tier of basketball greats as LeBron James, but his moves in free agency to Miami, back to Cleveland, and then to Los Angeles directly impacted his four different championship runs. Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State earned him a pair of rings.
Whether you like it or not, big money free agents really do dictate the shape of the entire NBA. And there are a number of destinations that could make sense for Lowry to go play in the next year or two or three that would give him a fantastic chance to compete for another title to add to his collection.
Outside of playing the rest of his days out as a Raptor, Philadelphia might be the most ‘storybook’ setting. Lowry grew up in the Pennsylvania city, and played his college basketball at the Villanova campus.
“To be honest with you, my family will be a major factor in this,” Lowry said, adding that money and years would also play a big role in his decision.
Despite the fact the 76ers are one of the Raptors’ biggest divisional rivals, the opportunity to play in a hometown with a team that topped the Eastern Conference this year and has been given new life under Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers just sounds like a natural fit. It wouldn’t really feel like a betrayal, either, but more a passing of the torch to the next generation of Raptors while still trying to play basketball at the highest level he can.
It’s much easier said than done, though.
Even if he wasn’t being openly shopped around or mentally checked out from the season, Lowry was definitely available for the trade market this past season when it was clear the Raptors’ playoff hopes were dwindling.
And nobody was willing to pay the asking price that appeared to be some combination of roster players and draft picks, so Lowry stayed in Toronto.
But a rental trade is much different than signing someone in free agency, and maybe a fit opens up over the coming months as teams re-assess their rosters.
Any smart team with legitimate title aspirations should look at Lowry’s resume and find a spot for him in their starting lineup next season. For Raptors fans, they can only hope that place is Toronto.