Toronto has officially chosen respectability over rebuilding.
The Raptors have agreed to re-sign point guard Kyle Lowry to a three-year contract worth $100 million, according to multiple reports. While speculation circulated in recent weeks that Lowry might be interested in moving on after five years in Toronto, the three-time All-Star point guard wrote Sunday that re-signing was an “easy decision.”
In the immediate aftermath of Toronto’s humbling second-round loss to Cleveland, some wondered whether president Masai Ujiri might look at the upcoming free agency decisions for Lowry and Serge Ibaka and conclude that it wasn’t worth spending top dollar for a roster that has a limited shot at true title contention. But the Raptors’ franchise history and Ujiri’s track record both hinted that Toronto’s central figures would receive their paydays.
Why take a major step back in the East’s pecking order when the Lowry/DeMar DeRozan backcourt has proven to be such a consistent winner over the last three seasons? Why not just pay up now and work out the details later once the 31-year-old Lowry and the fading 27-year-old Ibaka really taper off? And why skimp on Lowry, the primary engine behind Toronto’s rise, when Ujiri has previously paid out major contracts to DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and plenty of other lesser players during his previous stop in Denver?
Lowry’s new contract is certainly big, but it’s fair for a player with his credentials and it avoids a cumbersome fourth year. Among this year’s free-agent point guards, Lowry will pull in a higher average annual value ($33 million) than Jrue Holiday ($25 million), Jeff Teague ($19 million) and the rest of the second-tier and third-tier options. Only Stephen Curry ($41 million) will earn more than Lowry on a per-year basis, and deservedly so. This contract also rightfully installs Lowry as Toronto’s highest-paid player, as DeRozan will earn an average of $27.8 million over the next four seasons and Ibaka just agreed to a new deal that will pay him $22 million per year.
Re-signing Lowry will require some roster compromises elsewhere. Valuable forward P.J. Tucker, a midseason pick-up, has already moved on to Houston and back-up guard Cory Joseph has surfaced in trade rumors with Indiana. Something will have to give—actually, multiple things will have to give—now that Ujiri has committed more than $80 million per year to his Big 3 of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka for the foreseeable future. But his bet is pretty clear and defensible: That trio, while not overwhelmingly amazing, should be enough to keep the Raptors in the chase pack behind the Cavaliers regardless of how many supporting cast members need to be scuttled.
There is a degree of risk at play here, given that Lowry has logged heavy minutes under coach Dwane Casey and has suffered multiple injury issues over the last few seasons. Last year, he missed 22 games during the regular season with a wrist injury and was unable to make it through Toronto’s second-round series due to an ankle injury. Given that Lowry isn’t getting any younger, the onus falls on the Raptors to do a better job of managing his workload, even if that means sacrificing some regular-season wins to keep him fresh for the playoffs. By keeping the term length to just three years, Ujiri has done well to limit the risks associated with injury-related and age-related decline and he’s shown the ability in the past to trade out of big contracts as the need arises.
It would have been sad if Toronto’s nightmare conclusion to 2016-17 prematurely ended the franchise’s golden era. While no steal, this contract ensures that the party will go on for the We The North’ers.