Lowry could leave Toronto after five seasons, so let’s examine the point Guard market.
Kyle Lowry is a 31-year old who just played his best season in the NBA. In his first four seasons, Lowry looked like a fine backup, and in his next three, there was no question he was a perfectly adequate starting point guard. Only over the last four years has he emerged as a guard who can dominate on an excellent offense and average more than 20 points per game.
This summer, he’s a free agent, and for the first time in his career, Lowry will be one of the most important individuals on the market. (Lowry technically has a player option, but he said Monday he will opt out of it. It was a no brainer.)
The Toronto Raptors will presumably be interested in re-signing Lowry, but ESPN’s Marc Stein reported Sunday that there have been late season rumblings that the point guard will consider moving back to the Western Conference.
You’d think, given his gradual rise from role player to starter to star, that Lowry will likely be looking to cash out. At 31, this is probably his final big pay day, and Lowry has never made more than $12 million per season. Lowry’s max salary would start at $35 million per season, and this would be his last chance to capitalize on that.
Moving to the Western Conference may not make Lowry’s path to the finals any easier with the Warriors looming, but it would at least give him a change of scenery. Two years straight, Toronto has looked hopeless against LeBron James’ Cavaliers, and at least there’s no LeBron in the other conference.
Let’s be frank: the best landing spot would be San Antonio.
There’s no need to be coy; the Spurs are a top-four team in the league, they have arguably the best player in the league, they have unarguably the best coach in the league, and they need a point guard. Tony Parker turns 35 this month and has looked it, and now he’s recovering from season ending knee surgery. Patty Mills is a free agent, too, so San Antonio clearly has room to add someone.
But the max money doesn’t work unless two of the following three things happen: Pau Gasol declines his player option, the final year of Parker’s contract is stretch waived, and/or Danny Green is traded. (The nuclear option is trading LaMarcus Aldridge, but we won’t dive into that idea for now.)
The Gasol and Parker options would seem to be the most favorable outcome for San Antonio, but is it likely? Gasol is set to earn $16 million next year, more money combined than both seasons in Chicago, his last stopping point. Our hunch is he will really considering opting into that contract, since it’s a great place to play and since nobody is giving the soon-to-be 37-year-old a long-term contract.
If Gasol did decline his option, and if Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee did the same, the Spurs would have roughly $28 million in cap space. If anyone could convince Lowry into a pay cut, it would be the Spurs. But they don’t have max money without making a couple significant moves.
There are other Western Conference landing spots for Lowry, though.
Denver is a budding team on the rise who has been looking for a veteran free agent to add to the mix, as seen by their pursuit of Dwyane Wade last season. They nearly made the playoffs this year, and with the continued development of young players and Lowry added to the mix, you’d have to consider them favorites for a sixth or seventh seed. Our Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs looked into the idea Monday:
If the Nuggets wanted to sign a credible All-Star who can compete with the best point guards in the West, Lowry would be a great get. It would complicate the back-court; since Lowry is used to playing 35+ minutes per game, it squeezes Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray out of most of the point guard minutes and means at least one of them won’t be extended since Denver won’t have the money. That provides the Nuggets with plenty of ammunition to go get that third star player in trade, however, or to restock their draft pick war-chest like Boston. Lowry is 31, but his downside is as good as the upside on the rookies for at least a few years.
Dallas has never fared well in free agency, but they have a similar situation: they have a center for the future (Nerlens Noel) and a couple young players (Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry) coming off excellent seasons with even more room to improve. They don’t have a starting point guard, though, and Lowry would fit perfectly under Rick Carlisle.
The Clippers would love Lowry as an option to replace Chris Paul if he chooses to leave, but they unfortunately don’t have the cap space unless Blake Griffin also departs. At that point, why would Lowry go there? (A sign-and-trade is possible, but that would probably only work if Paul wanted to go to Toronto.)
The Jazz or the Pelicans could possibly interest Lowry, too, though probably not as much as the other options. Do any of those options jive with Lowry’s stated goal this summer?
"A ring. Nothing else. I just want s ring." - Lowry on free agent priorities— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 8, 2017
That’s a decision he’ll have to figure out.
Lowry’s one disadvantage is how many good point guards are on the market.
We can ignore Stephen Curry, who is a free agent but is a lock to re-sign in Golden State.
Behind him, there’s Paul, Lowry, George Hill, and Jrue Holiday, all versatile starting guards who can instantly improve whatever team they end up on. The second wave includes Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and Patty Mills. Deron Williams is adequate, Ty Lawson was surprisingly good, and Milos Teodosic could be coming over. Plus, don’t forget how deep the coming draft is for point guards.
All this could serve to depreciate the market for Lowry’s services, especially since the max contract he probably seeks would be higher than everyone but Paul’s. If, for example, Paul is on the market, the Spurs would likely pursue him over Lowry.
A gambling man would still favor Toronto over everyone else.
A few rumors in May don’t a free agent departure make. Lowry’s best seasons have come in Toronto, and their team would likely be favored to win the Eastern Conference if they return in whole, given Cleveland’s lackadaisical approach to the regular season.
But in the playoffs, LeBron James will still be standing in his way. And if Lowry’s fed up with losing to him, could you blame him for changing sides?