Kyle Lowry's return to Raptors taps already depleted point guard market
On Wednesday night, Kyle Lowry sent fissures through the NBA marketplace. His decision was, in itself, an unsurprising event: A fair, long-term deal that will return Lowry to the Raptors team he emboldened last season. Toronto had made its intentions to re-sign Lowry known for months, as the current version of the team is very much predicated on his talents. Losing Lowry wouldn't merely translate as the unhedged departure of a very good point guard, but the dissolution of a complete team identity.
Instead, Lowry re-upped with the Raptors and stripped free agency of a crucial, unattached star. It's still early in the offseason, but Lowry was already the last excellent ball handler available without restriction or caveat. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would appear to be spoken for in Miami. Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and even Greivis Vasquez are restricted free agents, likely requiring significant overpayment to pluck away. Lance Stephenson is in a universe all his own, swirling in potential and tremendous risk. Lowry stood apart as a seemingly attainable piece without the same practical or personal concerns, and now that he's off the market those teams in need of a point guard are left to wade into the depths of Devin Harris-Mario Chalmers territory.
The problems therein are painfully apparent, especially in a summer where so many teams have needs to fill and cap room to burn. Overpayment is inevitable. Already we've seen Darren Collison pull a three-year, fully guaranteed deal with the Kings for $16 million and Shaun Livingston will earn similar money (three years and $15 million) for a backup role with the Warriors. Avery Bradley, if only nominally a point guard, was handed a four-year deal from the Celtics worth $32 million. What, then, is the going rate for those merely decent players (Ramon Sessions, Jerryd Bayless or Rodney Stuckey) in subsequent tiers? To the extent that any among them offers some distinct appeal, they could stand to earn a similar wage given the unremarkable alternatives.
All of this puts the Mavericks and Lakers in an interesting place, as the apparent course in their respective offseasons hinged on decent, affordable point guard options. By the time either team is actually ready to commit cap space to that need, however, those options may well have vanished. It's been said that the dominoes of free agency wait for the likes of James and Anthony. To some extent that's true; teams like Houston and Chicago have other moves in play should their primary targets fall through, which will then activate a host of dormant free agents and trade partners around the league. In the meantime, however, certain teams priced outside the superstar market have been picking away at the most appealing scraps. These are only role players in the grand scheme of things, but when role players are all that functionally remains of the point guard pool as it is, the best among them matter a good deal.