2020-21 Player Review: Kyle Lowry

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This is part of a series of player reviews from the 2020-21 season. To find the remainder of the series, please click here.

Like Tom Sawyer, Jenna Maroney, and Michael de Santa, Kyle Lowry was fortunate enough to attend his own funeral. Like Maroney, Lowry got to perform at his. He knocked it out of the park.

Since Lowry’s would-be final game against the Denver Nuggets, his existence within the Raptors’ organization has been something like that of a ghost. The Raptors’ retention of Lowry has been a double-edged sword, much like the one Mickey Rourke tried to kill Jenna Maroney with. Lowry has been a flickering and disembodied presence, more apparent off the court than on it. Along with his own former protégé, Fred VanVleet, Lowry could often be seen coaching rookie guard Malachi Flynn from the side of the court. Lowry remained himself — arguing calls, mocking media members — but he did it mostly from the bench. The Raptors decided to keep Lowry in the fold largely because the trade offers for the franchise leader were so impotent, but then they asked him not to show up to work all too often.

After March 24, Lowry played in only a third of Toronto’s games. It didn’t stop him from continuing to give us KLOE games, as in his final appearance of the season, Lowry scored 37 points in a win over a Los Angeles Lakers team sporting both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. (Meanwhile, the three teams that were most frequently linked to Lowry’s services at the trade deadline, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Miami Heat, and the Lakers themselves, have flamed out spectacularly before even the Conference Finals.) Lowry remains a winning player, able to contribute in a variety of ways. Unfortunately for basketball fans inside and outside of Toronto, Lowry wasn’t able to do that for anyone, really, after the trade deadline.

Which didn’t exactly seem to bother Lowry himself. He consistently supported Masai Ujiri and the Raptors in public, maintaining that he didn’t disagree with their decision. He joked at times about being “well rested,” but he was the picture of understanding and compassion as the season trickled to a close like a watched pot boiling. For some reason, his shadow life with the Raptors meant that he reneged on what had been a constant in his career with the Raptors to that point — a long-standing scorn of media members.

Imma be honest, usually I bullshit y’all, but it was kinda weird tonight,” said a truthful and open Lowry the night he was almost traded. The next time we spoke with him, on March 26, he regretted every second he spent with us: “Yeah, it was stupid,” he said. “Never again. Don’t ever.”

But then at his end-of-season availability, Lowry broke the record for the longest time spent with media of any Raptors player. He was open and honest and spoke about how his children gave him perspective on basketball, how the success of his teammates gave him joy during a lost season. Lowry did not offer such insights to the paying public when he first came to Toronto, to put it mildly.

Which brings us to the present, carried forward by a decade of growth and maturity on all sides. Now Lowry is Mr. Toronto, more Raptor than Blue, Delta, Echo, or Charlie. He has spent the best years of his career giving the Raptors first relevance and then a championship, and he has signed three contracts with the team, which makes him the best player to have ever chosen to be a Raptor by a ridiculous margin. And now Lowry, already eulogized once, may actually leave this time. Lowry’s contract, this time a one-year, $30.5 million, we-have-nothing-better-to-do-with-this-hoard lifetime award, is expired once again, and he will have no shortage of upcoming suitors who may have shied away at the trade deadline only to have lived to regret it.

And what might have been his final season with the Raptors was wasted. Lowry is not going to give Toronto a hometown discount. He has already declined an invitation to the USA Olympics training camp in order to focus on free agency, and it’s not like the Raptors are coming off another winning year to boost their case. It has been covered extensively, but the general thrust of the season was disaster piled on disaster, more than even Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning could have planned for. More or less, this. To be fair, some of that can be blamed on Lowry’s game slipping some from years’ past. This season, he sported only the team’s sixth-best on/off point differential per 100 possessions, which was the second-lowest of his tenure with the Raptors. Toronto was worse defensively with him on the court for the third time since Lowry joined the franchise. He reached the rim less frequently than ever before — yet he shot a career-high percentage once he got there.

The question must be asked if Lowry would have been better if he’d had more to play for. Lowry still had epic showings in some of the few important games Toronto played. He wasn’t the Lowry of before, but neither was he a total departure from himself. As the seasons feed into one another, so too does Lowry stay the GROAT, even as he ages and alters. His muffin top remains all that. (Whole grain low fat.)

Miserable, then, to waste a year of Lowry. No matter how brilliant he may remain, he will at some point decline, if we didn’t already see the beginning of it this year. But before then, he still has much to give. The team lost him on March 24, 2021. Everything after that — much like his entire career — has been more than anyone could have thought possible.