Kyle Lowry won’t be hitting free agency next summer after all. The Raptors announced a one-year, $31 million extension for their 34-year-old point guard Monday morning just as he was about to enter the final season of a three-year, $100 million contract he signed back in 2017.
Toronto didn’t want Lowry entering a lame duck season, especially not after he helped lead the Raptors’ stunning title run in June. This amounts to a championship bonus for Lowry — it’s a signal of appreciation for everything he’s done for the franchise in the past with an acknowledgement that he still has something left in the tank for the future.
Lowry is still a damn good player. Last season, he ranked No. 15 in the league in RPM, a stat that measures on-court impact through net point differential per 100 possessions. Lowry has long been one of the most underrated players of his generation, a point that was muddled by Toronto’s consistent playoff failings before last season. Now he’s finally getting the recognition he’s long deserved. This extension is something like a golden parachute for the player who has come to represent the Raptors as the face of the franchise.
Toronto is headed for a period of transition with the departure of Kawhi Leonard and the impending free agency of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka after this season. How does Lowry’s extension change the Raptors’ future? These are the implications of his new deal.
Lowry can still be traded
From the Raptors’ perspective, Lowry’s extension accomplishes two things: it rewards him for everything he’s meant to the franchise while keeping a still effective player under another year of team control. That doesn’t necessarily mean Lowry will still be in a Raptors uniform for all of this season, let alone next season.
The Raptors can be competitive in the Eastern Conference this year, but it’s hard to see them as a true threat to reach the Finals without Leonard. If the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the East, as many expect, Toronto can try to move its veterans to acquire future assets. Lowry may still be on the table in trade talks, and this extension might actually make him more appealing to teams targeting him.
If a team wants Lowry, they now know they have him for more than a rental. They also know they don’t have to go into next summer needing to negotiate another contract with him. While $31 million is certainly a crooked number on a cap sheet for an aging player during the 2020-2021 season, it’s also a security blanket for a team willing to acquire him. His expiring deal can also be a movable asset a year from now.
The Sixers and Bucks are two teams that could use Lowry’s two-way ability in the postseason. Throw the Lakers, Nuggets, and several other contenders out West looking for an upgrade at point guard in there, too. Lowry’s extension doesn’t take him off the table in trade talks — it might actually make a deal more plausible.
2021 remains the year the Raptors can rebuild
The worst kept secret in the NBA is how underwhelming the 2020 free agency class is. Assuming Anthony Davis re-ups with the Lakers, the biggest unrestricted free agents on the market will be Andre Drummond, Danilo Gallinari, and Montrezl Harrell.
Everything changes in 2021. That’s when Giannis Antetokounmpo leads a star-studden free agency class that also includes Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Rudy Gobert, and likely Leonard and Paul George.
The Raptors are projected to have around $81 million in cap space in the summer of 2021. The Lowry extension doesn’t affect that whether they trade him or not. The looming max extension for Pascal Siakam would take a big chunk out of their available cap space, but Toronto would have enough room for one max player even if Siakam gets locked up.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri took him team to the mountaintop last season. This season will be a victory lap even without Leonard. It’s the 2021-2022 season when the Raptors can fully reload.
Lowry’s extension shows the Raptors will take care of you
Lowry’s extension isn’t just a reward for a brilliant career. It’s also a signal to stars around the league that the Raptors take care of their players.
Much like the late career extension Kobe Bryant signed with the Lakers, Lowry’s deal proves the Raptors can treat players like family, not just numbers on a spreadsheet. The franchise caught some heat for being heartless after trading longtime stalwart DeMar DeRozan for Leonard a year ago. That move proved to be one of the most impactful in NBA history. With Lowry’s deal, Toronto is reaffirming its place as an organization that treats players with full respect.
There was no comic sans letter when Leonard left. There likely won’t be vitriol from the fans when he visits in an away uniform like there was for Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. Lowry’s championship bonus doesn’t just help the Raptors in the near-term, it could help their perception with other players long-time. If anyone deserves this type of commitment, it’s him.