Almost everything that happened in June — from the Sixers trading up for Markelle Fultz to the Rockets acquiring Chris Paul — was good news for Raptors fans hoping their team would re-sign Kyle Lowry. They didn’t need to give their 31-year-old point guard a five-year deal or the full max. Toronto re-upped Lowry for three years, at a $100 million price tag. Though Toronto lost P.J. Tucker to the Rockets, bringing back Serge Ibaka and Lowry will help them maintain their status as one of the best teams in a paltry Eastern Conference.
At one point, the Sixers were seen as a possible destination for Lowry, but then they got Fultz to complement their other primary creator, Ben Simmons. Almost every other team that "needed" a point guard drafted one: De’Aaron Fox went to the Kings, Frank Ntilikina was Phil Jackson’s last hurrah, and the Mavericks were happy to draft Dennis Smith Jr. Jimmy Butler was "in the ear" of Lowry, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, before the Bulls traded him to the Timberwolves. The Bulls acquired Kris Dunn, while the Wolves dealt Ricky Rubio and signed Jeff Teague.
In the game of Point Guard Musical Chairs, most of the spots were filled. That said, Toronto has to be ecstatic. Lowry is a good fit next to his backcourt partner, DeMar DeRozan. Over the past four years, per SportVU, he’s shot 42.3 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. When DeRozan is pounding the ball, Lowry can effectively spot up from 3. It’s on DeRozan to extend his range to 3 and improve as a passer so the team can improve its ball movement and spacing.
The big question is what happens next for the Raptors, and what does Lowry’s deal say about the point guard position on the open market?
Toronto: Win Now; Rebuild Sooner or Later?
- Bring back the band by re-signing Lowry, Ibaka, and Tucker (they got two of those three things done).
- Attempt to make improvements that will bolster their chances at winning a title.
- Go into the season looking to make noise in the Eastern Conference.
If LeBron James leaves the Cavaliers next summer, the Eastern Conference could become Fury Road. The Raptors might not have as bright of a future as the Bucks, Sixers, and Celtics, but they’re still damn good. Who knows? Maybe DeRozan returns next season as a reliable 3-point shooter, or a young player like Norman Powell or OG Anunoby becomes a significant contributor. Maybe Lowry has another gear, despite his age. Team president Masai Ujiri could deal Jonas Valanciunas to modernize their old-fashioned system. The reasons for running it back and competing are obvious. The Raptors are good!
However: They are also locked into a roster with a payroll diving deep into the luxury tax, without projectable cap flexibility or assets they can swap for improvements. They’ve yet to re-sign Patrick Patterson, an important piece of their puzzle, and they’re already looking to shed salary by moving point guard Cory Joseph to the Pacers, according to Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto. Joseph was a player they brought in to bolster their depth — dealing him would be counterintuitive to their championship hopes.
The question is whether they should keep pushing, like the Clippers and Mavericks did in years past. They could hit the jackpot, like the 2011 Mavs did — but neither Lowry nor DeRozan is a top-50 all-time talent like Dirk Nowitzki is. Neither of them is on the level of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, for that matter. I don’t want to rehash everything I wrote back in March, but expect Ujiri to have his cake and eat it too. The Raps can stay competitive and they can hit the eject button.
Ujiri and Raptors ownership have "toyed with the idea of maybe going young," ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently said on SportsCenter. Take it for what it’s worth, but if a youth movement is on the Raptors’ mind, don’t be surprised if in the coming year or two, they’re trying to find a team that needs a point guard. There aren’t a lot buyers right now, but players like Lowry can always find a home. Speaking of which, Lowry’s signing and Chris Paul’s move to Houston tell a story about the point guard landscape right now, and what it might look like in the future.
The Changing Point Guard Market
Isaiah Thomas hits free agency in 2018. Will there be a team that’ll give him the max, or will the Celtics not have to go all the way with their offer, just like Toronto? In 2019, John Wall and Kyrie Irving (who could opt out) should get the max. But how about Kemba Walker? The league is changing. For teams that want to run a traditional system with one point guard, even fewer seats could be available in the coming years as the 2017 draft class blossoms.
Perhaps in a league overflowing with quality point guards, we’re seeing a change in perspective. Look at what just happened in Houston, which acquired future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul. In the past, a team with Paul and James Harden might’ve been viewed as unbalanced. But times have changed. With the way offenses move the ball from one side of the floor to the other, dynamic attacks with multiple initiators could become the new normal — the Paul-Harden pairing could be as influential as it is exciting. "You can’t have too many point guards, can’t have too many smart guys, can’t have too many stars," Mike D’Antoni said after the acquisition.
Maybe the goal should be finding a dynamic player, regardless of positional overlap. Houston needed another star to take some of the load off Harden. It didn’t matter that he happened to play the same position.
D’Antoni will stagger minutes to always have one of his two smart star point guards on the floor at all times. They’ll need to learn how to share when they’re both playing, but it shouldn’t be an issue, as discussed last week. If Paul and Harden are a success playing alongside each other, the Rockets can serve as a template for the future of team-building. The bottom line is: The more ways an offense has to attack a defense, the less predictable it is. It also increases court scoring potency in playoff situations.
Lowry is the perfect point guard for this new style of basketball. Put aside his playmaking ability (and put aside the fact that "new style of basketball" and "Dwane Casey" don’t exactly go hand-in-hand), Lowry is an excellent shooter in all situations, and his defense would allow him to stay on the floor even if he isn’t being featured offensively. He’s a player who can blend in next to anyone. If DeRozan takes on a greater facilitating role like he did when Lowry was out last season, the team could benefit.
Maybe the Raptors should find another star point guard. That’s easier said than done, of course, but the league is flooded with point guards. You never know who could become available in the coming years. If the Raptors do reshuffle their deck with a Valanciunas deal, maybe the next step is going smaller, and finding a third musketeer for the Lowry-DeRozan backcourt.
Having two or more point guards on the floor at once still might be unconventional now, but as the NBA evolves, and as more and more point guards are injected in the league through the draft, someday having two points might be the new normal.