Well, it’s been a couple weeks since the Toronto Raptors captured the attention of the basketball world in their first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, but now it’s time to explore a most critical offseason for the Raptors. Toronto’s summer starts by addressing the roster as assembled currently and deciding what players should return at the beginning of next season. Namely, point guard Kyle Lowry and his expired contract thus making him an unrestricted free agent this summer and making him priority number one for the Raptors front office.
First, Lowry’s play this season is going to get him PAID once he hits the open market July 1st. He played fantastically, and in an age of hybrid-combo guards / point guards, Lowry in the truest sense played the point guard position as traditional thought upholds to. He was passive, but judicious in when he attacked – never a doubt that Lowry ran the show for the Raps. He was the leader. Defensively, the area Lowry excels in, he hounded opposing guards on the perimeter all season long. Channeling his high-strung personality he’s notoriously known for throughout the league, but for the first time in his career channeling that energy seamlessly into his play on the court as a competitive advantage.
Theoretically, the Raptors had an opportunity to retain Lowry via extension during the season due to Lowry’s contract being unguaranteed as opposed to containing an option in either the team or player format. But, in order to extend a player on an unguaranteed contract, the team must be under the salary cap, which Toronto was not during the season. Reason I bring up unguaranteed contracts is because there’s subtle nuances that distinguish unguaranteed contracts from contracts with player or team options that aren’t obvious at its face, and are important in how teams operate. I’ll elaborate more on this when I talk about players the Raptors should not bring back next season, but it’s important to bring to your attention. Team options and unguaranteed contracts ARE NOT the same thing, but are similar.
What Lowry meant to the Raptors this season should be reflected by the offer that Toronto is prepared to offer, a rather handsome offer I’m sure. Remember when the mid-season rumors circulated about potential trades involving Lowry that the Raptors were supposedly engaged in? Toronto bet on Lowry, much like they bet on him when the first acquired him in the summer of 2010. It took time, but the bet on Lowry was a successful gamble by all accounts. Now, Toronto’s going to pay Lowry like a top ten point guard.
Barring a select few deals being cut before the July 1st deadline and league turnover, Toronto will be comfortably under the cap for free agency. This means Lowry is going to be the beneficiary of Toronto’s spending ability this summer, he’ll get paid like a very, very good player should. Lowry’s going to get no less than $9 million in the first year of the deal, and if he signs a four-year deal (what I’d expect) the contract will be worth $12-$13 million in the last year of the deal. In total, look for something like 4/48, which to put in perspective: Steph Curry signed for 4/44 a couple years ago, and although it may not seem it, Curry’s only two years younger than Lowry.
Clearly, the biggest roadblock in the path leading Lowry back to Toronto (which he’s on record of saying he wants to be back) is that he’s an unrestricted free agent. Would teams like Milwaukee or Dallas who have the ability to make a run at Lowry throw him a ridiculous offer? If they are, Lowry’s going at the very least listen to those offers and those numbers that some team might be willing to pay him. Ultimately, I think Lowry stays though. Lowry wants the team, the team wants Lowry. At this point, Lowry’s a part of the future for the Raptors and I don’t think anyone in the organization would want to have it any other way.
Now onto some of the more minor moves the Raptors should make, but I don’t want to underplay their significance – Toronto had the season it had largely in part because average role players benefited from the opportunity and chance they’d been given in Toronto. Take for example Greivis Vasquez, Toronto’s glue-guy off the bench. Vasquez is in the last year of his rookie contract which Toronto inherited this season through the Rudy Gay trade with Sacramento. Meaning, Vasquez is still under team control and is restricted as long as Toronto offers Vasquez a qualifying offer by June 30th.
With Vasquez, who’s adamantly embraced the passion from the fans throughout Toronto’s run this season, a return makes a lot of sense. He’s the perfect guard to come off the bench to complement both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Other teams surely saw his value to Toronto this season, and it may prompt an offer sheet that Toronto might be forced to overpay a bit for Vasquez. Under most foreseeable circumstances, I see Toronto matching any offer for Vasquez. If Toronto can keep Vasquez on the qualifying offer it’d be a huge bargain for the team and is the most desired scenario.
Vasquez is what he is on defense, not very good. He’s not so bad to the point where he’s a liability at all times when he’s on the floor, but he wasn’t brought to Toronto based on his defense anyway. Vasquez’s biggest asset is his playmaking-style that provides a spark off the bench. He can differ or be the main scorer on Toronto’s second unit, and when he’s paired with Lowry or DeRozan, his role is reduced to knocking down spot-up three’s or seldom late-in-shot-clock pick-and-rolls.
Another foreign point guard Toronto has stashed on its roster is Nando De Colo, who came to Toronto in a deadline day trade with the San Antonio Spurs for rangy forward Austin Daye. Toronto’s decision on De Colo is a straightforward one: offer a qualifying offer or don’t. Qualifying offers barely register as cap impacts as meets the eye, but in the larger scheme of it – every dollar matters. I’ve liked De Colo’s game more than most, if not for anything else because he at one point had Gregg Popovich’s approval as a basketball player. I’m inclined to believe Toronto is going to draft with more of a front-court-oriented player in mind, so I’d be in favor of bringing De Colo back for another year as insurance.
Quite clearly, priorities number one, two, and three are Kyle Lowry and rightfully so. I’m still holding out hope he’ll be named third team All NBA to validate the recognition Lowry deserved (but rarely got) this season. Bringing back Lowry is the biggest addition the team can realistically make this summer, with the only other exception being the player the team ultimately drafts. This much is clear, the Raptors found something special this season and Lowry was the biggest peddler towards that newfound winning formula, so if he’s not back next season there’s going to be a lot more questions than answers.
Who do you think should stay? Why? Why not? Let me know!