It would be easy for Kyle Lowry to look at his upcoming free agency and play out a largely lost 2020-21 Toronto Raptors season focusing on himself.
The 35-year-old is heading into what will likely be his last significant payday as an NBA veteran and it would make sense for him to be trying to maximize it. Heck, that's what veteran players usually do just before they ride off into the sunset, Khem Birch said Monday night.
In some ways it's a little strange Lowry doesn't care more about his upcoming free agency. As Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby all ink significant contracts to remain with Toronto, it makes it harder and harder to see Lowry sticking around. Every dollar the Raptors spent on those three and will spend re-signing Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch makes it harder to see Toronto keeping their veteran guard.
But that's not how Lowry operates.
"These guys all got paid because they’ve become men, they’ve become better basketball players and they’ve grown," Lowry said last month. "For me to be a part of that is one of the best feelings in the world because these guys will be able to provide for their families forever, they’re creating generational wealth, they’ll continue to get paid, and they’re getting paid to do something that they love."
Now, Lowry is focusing on getting the 28-year-old Birch a lucrative deal when he hits unrestricted free agency this summer. Lowry has taken it upon himself to make life as easy as possible for Birch, adapting his tendencies to make sure Birch feels comfortable in Toronto's system.
“I’m trying to get him paid," Lowry joked Monday night after assisting on five of Birch's seven made buckets. "That’s what I try to do, I try to get my teammates paid and help us win games and make sure everyone around me is successful."
It's taken a while for the Raptors to have a big Lowry can rely on for those kinds of easy buckets at the rim. For years he and Serge Ibaka had this almost unparalleled chemistry. Now, with just three games under their belt, Lowry and Birch are finding a very similar mojo together.
"He is finding his way and he’s finding his spots," Lowry said of Birch. "We’re throwing the ball when the opportunity is there and when we’re in spacing actions and he’s getting dunks and rolls."
After Monday's game, Birch said his 14 points were the easiest buckets he's ever scored. To him, the fact that Lowry has been willing to adapt to his style of play and actually cares about his future is incredible. He went from playing for the Magic, an organization that didn't quite utilize his skills in the right way, to one with the Raptors that has been willing to conform to make sure he's finding the most success.
"[Lowry] told me that now that I’m playing more and getting the ball more, just doing the little things, that I’m going to start getting paid," Birch said. "I appreciate that from him. That’s the goal for this team. There’s a culture here and that’s to help each other out and I appreciate it."
It's a small sample size, of course, but in 91 minutes together, Lowry and Birch are outscoring opponents +20.3 per 100 possessions and Toronto's starting lineup with Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, and Birch has a Net Rating of +29.8 in 71 minutes together. While those numbers will certainly come down, especially as Toronto takes on tougher opponents over the next week, Birch and Lowry look like the kind of duo the Raptors have been longing for. Whether or not the Raptors can keep both going forward might just come down to how much money Lowry has made for Birch.