The contract is now in Kyle Lowry’s court, but it should be coming back to the Toronto Raptors sooner than later.
After a long day to open NBA free agency that included meetings in Philadelphia with a delegation from the Houston Rockets in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and an afternoon session with Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and general manager Masai Ujiri, Lowry spent the evening digesting what was available to him.
“The meeting with [Toronto] went well,” a source close to Lowry told Sportsnet via text late Tuesday night. “Kyle is contemplating his decision and should let us know shortly.”
Similarly the Raptors left the meeting remaining confident they will be able to get Lowry’s name on a contract — often stated by Ujiri as the club’s top off-season priority — although neither Ujiri or Casey were available for comment when contacted by Sportsnet.
It is a tricky negotiation for both sides in that Lowry left Toronto after the season giving every indication he loved his experience playing here and wanted to return.
For their part the Raptors have made no bones about wanting to keep Lowry as a foundation piece of a program that made great strides under his direction this past season, the 28-year-old point guard’s best.
With a team fully under his command for the first time Lowry posted averages of 17.9 points/7.4 assists/4.7 rebounds and finished eighth in the NBA in WinShares, according to basketball-reference.com.
But this will be the most important contract Lowry signs in his career, so it’s incumbent on him to squeeze every dollar out of the negotiation possible.
Meanwhile Ujiri and the Raptors are eager to send dual messages to the NBA: Toronto is a place that in-demand free agents want to play, but also that the Raptors aren’t the league’s ATM -- a place where players will only stay if they are grossly overpaid.
The trick for Lowry and his agent, Andy Miller, is to create as much competition in the marketplace as possible. In contrast, Ujiri has to coolly gauge the market to make sure his offer is the best Lowry is likely to get, but not so good that all he’s done is outbid himself.
These things take time.
The Rockets are a curious suitor in that their GM, Daryl Morey, traded Lowry away for what ended up being the 12th pick the 2013 draft in part because Lowry and Rockets head coach Kevin McHale were in constant conflict.
It was shedding that reputation as being a difficult player to coach that has been perhaps his most important accomplishment in Toronto and has set him up for a career payday.
But landing him in Houston at the kind of money sources say he’s expecting -- nothing less than $40 million over four years, even in income tax-friendly Texas -- would likely require the Raptors to facilitate a sign-and-trade, a non-starter for the Raptors unless Lowry tells them he absolutely won’t play for them anymore, which is far from the case.
Meanwhile reports from ESPN and Yahoo! suggest the Miami Heat are close to coming up with contracts for their Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, with the latter two taking discounts that would allow them to pursue Lowry.
But again the issue becomes whether they can match the term and dollars that Toronto has on the table.
Florida is another state without income tax and playing for a championship would have its attractions, but it’s unlikely the Heat would want to spend all of their available cap space on one player when they have so many holes on their roster.
Moreover, Lowry has flourished as the primary ball-handler and decision maker with the Raptors and he’d have to cede much of that control with the Heat, it almost goes without saying.
Still, listening intently to those offers is important if only to make sure Toronto brings their best possible offer to the table.
According to league sources the Raptors are comfortable going to $11 million for four years. The real decision will be what they want to do with the fifth year -- an enticement they are the only team in position to offer as Lowry is a returning free agent.
Undoubtedly Lowry is holding out for a full fifth year, pushing his deal to $55 million.
Similarly, the Raptors are quite likely hoping to keep the deal to four years, or a low-as-possible guarantee for a fifth year.
As all the external noise begins to fade away in the next day or two and Lowry contemplates the most important contract of his career, that is where the remaining negotiation will likely focus.