The 2017 NBA free agent class looks to be one of the more underwhelming in recent years. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are guaranteed to re-sign with Golden State just as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will more than likely re-sign with Los Angeles. This leaves only a select group of elite players who will realistically look to explore the market and entertain offers from other teams. One of these elite players, Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, faces a truly career-defining decision this summer.
As he has openly stated, Lowry’s sole desire is to win a championship sooner rather than later. At 31 years old, his window of elite play will slowly begin to close despite a career year this past season. In 2016-17, Lowry excelled for career highs in points (22.4), rebounds (4.8), and field goal percentage (46%), while boasting a career high in three point field goal percentage (41%) and three point attempts (7.8 per game). Despite such a strong year coupled with a career year from backcourt companion DeMar DeRozan, Lowry and the Raptors were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second year in a row; this time in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (last year saw them lose in the Eastern Conference Finals). Another year of underachievement and disappointment has led some to believe that Lowry will be heading to an opposing team this summer. Let’s take a look at the case for the possible routes Lowry may take:
Staying in Toronto
While most still consider this to be the most likely choice for Lowry, he has already confirmed that he will at the least be opting out of his $12 million player option for 2017-18. Toronto, who finished as the third seed in the East with a 51-31 record this past season, employ one of the best starting fives in the Eastern Conference. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas are a team that is built to take on the Cavaliers and LeBron James. This team’s championship window is closing by the day, but it remains open for the time being. Outside of the Washington Wizards, the Raptors have the best chance, albeit a slim one, to dethrone James and represent the East in the Finals. For the next few years, the Raptors will continue to make the playoffs and get their shot to take down Cleveland. A consistent opportunity for a Finals berth may not be as prevalent in the fiercely competitive West. Should Lowry choose to re-sign, it is worth noting that the potential contract would be 5 years for $200 million. The prospect of a weak Eastern Conference and a huge payout may be enough to keep Lowry in Toronto, but only time will tell.
Leaving Toronto and Possible Destinations
Lowry’s desire for a ring may leave him with no choice but to reject the Raptors and head to a Western Conference contender in need of a point guard. Though the Raptors do have a chance to reach the Finals in the coming years, LeBron James led teams have represented the East in the Finals for the past six years, and James has shown no sign of slowing down. James is 32 and Lowry is 31, so the two are expected to stay in the league for about the same time. To add, Lowry will be joined in free agency by Raptors starter Serge Ibaka and bench contributors P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson. If those three walk, the Raptors will be a much weaker team if they are unable to fill their voids. Before Lowry becomes too old to contribute at a high level, he may pursue opportunities in the West to avoid the stranglehold LeBron has on the East. But where in the West is Lowry’s best fit?
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs may not be able to throw money at Lowry the way the Raptors can, but they offer him the best chance at a priceless championship ring. Besides, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has consistently been able to convince players to take pay cuts. Their current point guard depth chart consists of an unproven 20 year old Dejounte Murray, an ever-aging 35 year old in Tony Parker, and Patty Mills, whose contract expires after this season. Of the top teams competing in the West, the Spurs stand alone as the only team who needs help at the point guard position. In a conference with Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, and Damian Lillard, the Spurs could certainly use a player of Lowry’s All-Star caliber. Joining forces with the likes of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge makes the Spurs difficult to ignore, and if Lowry really wants that ring, this would give him his best chance.
Los Angeles Clippers
While this is more of a long shot than a realistic option, Lowry winding up in LA would be contingent on Chris Paul’s free agency decision. If Paul decides to stay, Lowry will not be heading to the Clippers. However, if Paul leaves, Los Angeles will have a glaring need at the point guard position, and Lowry could step into one of the better starting fives in the league. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are one of the best frontcourts in the NBA, but that may not be enough to convince Lowry to leave what he has in Toronto. Nonetheless, filling the vacancy of Chris Paul would be an enticing option for Lowry to consider.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are one of the more interesting destinations in free agency this summer. Undoubtedly the Pelicans will need to establish a clear, concrete 12 man roster by the start of the season, as they employed 26 different names at one point or another this year. After trading for Demarcus Cousins, New Orleans boasts unquestionably the best frontcourt in the NBA with Cousins and Anthony Davis. How those two gel and coexist will be essential to how the team fares next year, however the potential is limitless with the two bigs’ unique skill sets. For the Pelicans to truly contend, they’ll need to bolster their backcourt. Jrue Holiday mans the point guard position for now, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. If the Pelicans front office can lock up Holiday early, they will be able to sell Lowry on an elite backcourt tandem and the best frontcourt in the league. Add in some strong bench pieces and a lottery pick in this year’s draft, and the Pelicans may finally be able to get into the mix in the highly competitive West.
Overall, the general consensus has held that Lowry is most likely to stay in Toronto for the remainder of his career. That said, Lowry has confirmed he will be opting out and if he stays in Toronto, it will be on a restructured, presumably near-max deal. In exploring his options, though, Lowry will be presented with some pretty persuasive alternative routes. One thing is for sure: Wherever Lowry winds up this summer, an NBA team will be getting (or retaining) one of the best the league has to offer.