Why the Toronto Raptors Shouldn’t Have Extended Kyle Lowry

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The Toronto Raptors recently announced a one-year, $31 million contract extension for star point guard Kyle Lowry. Here’s why it was a mistake.

You may have heard the latest news sweeping through the streets of basketball-obsessed Toronto, Canada: Kyle Lowry has put pen to paper, agreeing to a one-year contract extension. The deal will compensate him handsomely for the role he played in the Toronto Raptors’ championship run.

More than anything else, the news comes with a dose of heartwarming symbolism. Although Toronto might soon be headed in a different direction, the franchise icon will be around to accept his ring on opening night and help the team mount a (however unlikely) title defense.

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As colleagues of mine have previously opined, there are many positive aspects to the Lowry deal for all parties involved. Perhaps most importantly, the Raptors avoid a holdout and the PR nightmare of Lowry openly requesting a trade.

The Raptors still have cap flexibility for the vaunted summer of 2021, where perhaps the greatest free-agent class ever assembled will be ripe for the picking (think Giannis, people). In locking up Lowry for one more year, they also effectively snagged the best free agent of the upcoming summer (2020) – seriously, take a look for yourself. There was never a chance of the Raptors committing major money to anyone on that list not named Pascal Siakam.

For Lowry, this deal means he’ll get a legitimate chance to run it back with this currently stripped-down, albeit title-winning roster. There are more than a few flea market-flyers on this iteration of the Raptors; guys playing to save their careers via a resurgent season-long showing.

Here is the faux pas, provided the Raptors do wholeheartedly consent to such an endeavour (assuming they don’t trade their vets for an overwhelming offer); locking up Lowry in the hopes of a second-round playoff exit might hinder the team’s long-term outlook.

Despite having Pascal Siakam and multiple contracts coming off the books soon, the Toronto Raptors are at a fork in the road: should they sell future assets and go for it all? Or do they pivot away from contention and into player development?

They’re currently straddling that line with the present roster. They have an excess of short-term, prove-it deals to first and second contract players. They also kept the veteran trio of Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol.

70-percent of the roster is 25 years old or younger. The franchise will be looking for an opportunity to evaluate that young talent, with the hopes of locking them up on below-market deals based on what they show this season (which will likely include a glimpse of playoff action in a weak Eastern Conference).

The Raptors’ true path back into contention is through selling off valuable veterans (Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka) midway through the upcoming year and building around a core of Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet. The Raptors might already be looking for players to fill out that championship team just down the line — how else do you reconcile their bargain-bin dive this offseason for project players?

Dreams of a quick re-tooling and another championship pursuit are delayed, however slightly, by Lowry’s continued presence on the roster. Bringing back the championship core might be fun for one season. After year two, the nostalgia starts to wear off.

Toronto is better in the short term but just took a step back towards its long-term goal to win a title.  Is that necessarily a bad thing? If you’re a diehard Raps fan, perhaps not.

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But the fact remains: Toronto’s brightest future does not lie in the immediate season to follow, and a commitment to Lowry could signal the franchise’s intent to tread water for the foreseeable future. In the NBA, treading water is strategy reserved for dynasties; the Raptors seized their opportunity last season, and now must look toward engineering the next one.