The Raptors are an unexpectedly competent basketball team -- one of the 10 best in the league, according to pace-adjusted point differential. But on a macro scale, Toronto hasn't undergone much dramatic change since unloading Rudy Gay's prohibitive contract. The Raptors' record is better and the style of play more engaging, but it's not as if the team's talent level or base of prospects were noticeably improved to a point that would make its long game much more promising.
With that, it's not exactly a surprise that the Raptors are reportedly continuing to pursue a potential deal for point guard Kyle Lowry, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com. Lowry, a two-way contributor who has been Toronto's best player this season, is set to be an unrestricted free agent come July.
Rather than face the possibility that he could sign elsewhere and cost the Raptors an asset in the process, Toronto at the very least remains open to the possibility of trading him -- no matter the good he's done for the franchise since Gay's departure.
Being as good as the Raptors are now is nice. It's a relief after the team's 6-12 start with Gay in the mix and a welcome change from years of losing basketball. It doesn't, however, remove the need for further improvement nor change the fundamental nature of basketball team-building.
The risk of losing Lowry as a free agent is very real, and in the short term the Raptors wouldn't have much means within the salary cap to responsibly replace him. They could carve out the cap room necessary to sign a quality point guard option if they get creative with their finances, but likely not in a way that would leave space for other needed moves. Replacing Lowry, after all, might only get Toronto back to where it is now: Working in the thick of an Eastern Conference it has no conceivable chance of winning.
There are worse fates on the NBA scene, and if nothing else Toronto looks to be all but guaranteed a playoff spot as one of the few teams in the East both looking to win games and capable of doing so consistently. That wasn't always set to be the case; there was a time in the immediate aftermath of the Gay deal when players like Lowry were reportedly quite gettable -- then standing as an imposition, of sorts, between the bailing Raptors and prime lottery odds for the 2014 draft.
With a better-than-expected record, though, came a shift in Toronto's internal calculus. Now far too good to plummet to the level of the Bucks or Magic in the Eastern Conference basement, the Raptors will likely need an even bigger trade return to justify trading Lowry with all on the court going relatively well. In all, that leaves Toronto as an open trade partner with a somewhat inflated return for Lowry in mind, one which no team as of yet has been willing to meet. Add in the fact that Lowry's free agency could just as easily scare other teams as it does the Raptors and a potential fit becomes even trickier to find. Go down the list to weigh the teams in need of a quality point guard against their potential trade assets and the circumstantial tangle takes full form. Lowry could be traded yet, but not without some factor in the mix -- Toronto's demands, suitors' caution, or some combination thereof -- bending into more agreeable form.