Kyle Lowry is a prime candidate for trade, and has been all year. Masai Ujiri has demonstrated little attachment to the players he did not bring in, and Lowry, obtained in 2012, predates Masai. Lowry is also an upcoming free agent, and is in the midst of a breakout year for a team who, whilst surprisingly strong this year, are nonetheless being repositioned for a reload. It all combines to make Lowry one of the most likely trade candidates on the market this week, and his name has already been mentioned in multiple rumors, one of which features Jeff Teague coming from the Atlanta Hawks in a three team deal with the New York Knicks.
Toronto likely does not want Jeff Teague more than it wants Kyle Lowry. After all, Teague is not better than Lowry. Rather, Toronto either does not feel it can retain Lowry this summer, or feels it is not worth the risk in trying. Lowry is due to enter unrestricted free agency this summer, and, due to a combination of his great play in this season thus far and a largely unheralded change in the last CBA, this is surely unavoidable.
Under both the current and the previous CBA, teams with cap space had and have the ability to use that cap space to renegotiate the contracts of their current players, so long as that renegotiation was going upwards and the contract being renegotiated had been in existence for more than three years. This rarely used rule gained some traction in the latter days of the previous CBA, with Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins (both Oklahoma City) and Andray Blatche (Washington) all being the beneficiaries of it. However, those contracts were simultaneously extended for multiple feature seasons, which was the purpose of said renegotiations in the first place. A team’s ability to do this under the new CBA is extremely restricted – now, if the renegotiation means an increase of more than 10% on the salary prior to renegotiation, the contract cannot be extended for three years after the date of the renegotiation.
It is not feasible for Toronto to have cap space this season. It certainly is not feasible for the Knicks to do so. And thus a renegotiation and extension for Lowry was not likely anyway. Yet if Lowry were to land on a team with cap space – for example, if the proposed three way deal was reworked, and Lowry ended up in Atlanta - they still would not be able to extend him before this summer, unless they were somehow able to coerce him into signing for far below his market value. A 10% increase in Lowry’s $6.21 million salary puts him only at $6.831 million, and an extension would be limited to starting at 105% of that amount for a maximum of three additional years.
Because in light of how he has performed this season, the $24,187,950 over three years maximum possible allowable renegotiation/extension such a team could offer Lowry is too little for his services. Nevertheless, while whichever team he is on at season’s end might find it difficult to retain him, it is a struggle worth risking on account of how good Lowry has become.
It is often said that Lowry is petulant, a hot head, and in more extreme opinions, a locker room distraction. Yet any weight placed on these pejoratives must also take into account from where they come. Lowry outplayed Mike Conley in Memphis, got benched behind him, then got dealt away. He outplayed Aaron Brooks in Houston, was nevertheless stuck behind him, tried to sign with Cleveland, and got his deal matched. He furthermore outplayed Jose Calderon in Toronto, but due to mostly assumed concerns about his “coachability”, and Calderon’s seemingly infinite likeability, Lowry remained the odd man out. Perhaps Lowry could have handle all this better, but the point remains that he has often been overlooked and undervalued, by teams who acquired him supposedly enamoured with his play. He has been the victim of disconnects between a team’s office and its coaching staff on more than one occasion. And some people are better at hiding their feelings than others. Lowry’s main crime, it appears, is not keeping his mouth shut when he has been wronged. This, surely, is forgivable.
No one can overlook and undervalue Lowry now, though, in short of his breakout campaign. A bulldog of a player who needed mostly to improve the calibre of his jump-shot, Lowry has done just that, making 123 three-pointers thus far this season on 39% three-point shooting, shooting both off the catch and off the dribble. Lowry has made this improvement without losing his trademark hustle and aggressiveness – he is still one of the better defenders of the point guard spot, crashes the glass, and uses his improved jump-shooting threat to improve his chances at getting to the basket off the pick and roll, rather than just playing like a Jason Terry type. Lowry is a good decision maker and dynamic two way player, and if there is still someone out there who does not see it, that person is surely not forgivable.
It is going to be quite the scramble to find these pieces, though. Lowry is really good, and for this reason, the Raptors have plenty of incentive to keep him. New York has only one first rounder to trade, as distant as 2018, and while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert are being constantly dangled in talks, they are not Lowry's calibre and would do very well to ever be. Other teams may, and ought, come in for Lowry, but it seems the Knicks are making the strongest push. They are disillusioned with Raymond Felton, as well they should be, and the situation is suitably desperate that they will bend over backwards as far as they can physically bend to get a deal done.
Be it to the Knicks or someone else, Lowry is tradable. Despite their decent season spent capitalizing on a weakened East, the Raptors are keeping their eyes firmly on the future, as well they should. And Lowry, due to his contract status, might not be a part of it. Toronto needs to reconcile the cost of a player in Lowry who despite it all has an injury history and is hurtling towards 30, with the value down the line of the potential Teague/Hardaway combination the current deal proffers them. A downgrade in talent for an upgrade in assets might be worth it, no matter how pleasing their season has been.
But if Lowry stays and they are able to re-sign him, they might win that way anyway.