Raptors have a tough decision to make about whether to pay Lowry big money


TOKYO — Kyle Lowry’s basketball career will be remembered for his remarkable time with the Toronto Raptors, but the point guard has a history with the Houston Rockets too.

The Raptors will play the Rockets twice here in Japan, giving Lowry a chance to reconnect with some Houston staffers, even if his playing status for the contest is uncertain following thumb surgery.

Lowry spent parts of four seasons in Texas, starting about half of the time and was encouraged to develop his three-point shooting and play-making, staples of the all-around game which would make him a five-time all-star in Toronto, before being dealt to Toronto in July of 2012 for a future first-round pick. Lowry was the last vestige of the Bryan Colangelo Era on the championship squad and has turned in without question the finest career in Toronto by any Raptor. The move worked out for the Rockets too though, since the pick that came back (which turned out to be centre Steven Adams) was a major part of the stunningly weak package that pried superstar James Harden away from Oklahoma City.

Lowry has twice re-signed with the Raptors, but the 33-year-old’s future after this season is up in the air. Lowry made $5.75 million U.S. in his first year with the club, about double with his first extension, all the way up to $31.2 million in 2018-19. He’s rewarded the club all along, including with a strong playoffs and spectacular title-clinching performance and has made it clear he would like to stay put on a rich new deal. There have been talks between Toronto and Lowry’s representatives and team president Masai Ujiri has said Lowry deserves “legacy status” based on his years of contributions to the organization, but Lowry oddly declined to come out with the team in Quebec City for the open scrimmage and no real explanation was given.

Lowry is an interesting character. He can be mischievous and at times seems to be fuelled by drama. When he’s bothered by something, he’ll usually let you know about it (some scribes have been put on timeout for a few days or weeks for perceived slights, before all is eventually forgiven). If he’s bothered by the lack of a new deal, nobody is saying at this time.

“He’ll give me a headache once a month, but that’s fine. That’s our relationship. I really respect him for that,” Ujiri said on media day pointing to their relationship, which included months without talking last year following the trade of DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio.

Those “headaches” aren’t really the issue for the club though when it comes to deciding on contractual parameters. Lowry will turn 34 in March and though his game is not based on athleticism, there will surely be some slippage in the next few years. Lowry’s friend and mentor Chauncey Billups is a decent comparable here. Billups, also a five-time all-star, who emerged as a star like Lowry later in his career, made his last all-star appearance at 33. Detroit moved him to Denver, despite his Finals MVP legacy there, at age 32 and Billups was still very good until his age 36 season, before deteriorating significantly at 37 before retirement.

Toronto is clearing the decks to try to add a superstar or two to Pascal Siakam and the young core in future summers. Heir apparent Fred VanVleet will also need a new deal in July and is eight years younger. Lowry deserves his “legacy” status, but paying him a ton down the line when he likely won’t be nearly the same player could impact the team’s flexibility quite a bit. Perhaps a nice compromise could be based on games played and production?

No decisions need to be made imminently, but the longer it goes, the more potential for distraction.


As always, the Raptors will use the pre-season as a tool to try to evaluate rotation decisions and roster spots. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are expected to be regular starters, while Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Patrick McCaw will likely jockey for the other starting job alongside Lowry. Serge Ibaka is also expected to rotate between the bench and starting.

The exhibitions, which begin on Tuesday and end on Oct. 18 in Brooklyn, will provide the team with a longer look at players like Terence Davis, Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher, as well as free agent signees Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson. The likes of Malcolm Miller, Cameron Payne, Oshae

Brissett, Sagaba Konate and Dewan Hernandez, amongst others, are also trying to stick around. Look for a host of players to see some time in Tokyo. Teams usually don’t shift into a more regular rotation until the end of the pre-season.