TORONTO — No matter how the question was posed, Kyle Lowry wouldn’t bite.
The Toronto Raptors point guard will opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent, and a lucrative deal beckons.
But less than 24 hours after the Raptors’ season ended in a four-game sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Lowry gave no hints about his intentions.
“Honestly man, I want to just get better, I want to have fun, I want to win a ring. I want to make sure my family is happy,” said Lowry, a father of two young boys. “And that’s all I’ve thought about right now.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t BS you guys. I would, but not this time. Not this time.”
The Raptors met with the media on their traditional post-season locker cleanout day. Hopes for the season had been high after their historic post-season run a year ago. But they collided with Cleveland earlier than expected, and the mood around their Biosteel Centre training facility Monday was one of unrealized goals.
Now Toronto heads into an off-season of uncertainty, with questions not only about the future of Lowry, but coach Dwane Casey and free agents Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson.
When asked to assess his performance on the season, Casey said “could have done better. I always feel that way.”
He singled out his players’ confidence in three-point shooting, plus defensive areas such as shot challenges and rotations.
“There’s always areas in our team, in our play, that I feel like I can do a better job, our staff, we all can do better,” Casey said. “There’s nothing we can be satisfied about, with our job performance, especially after the way we went out. Even the season, there were times we could have been better defensively, better offensively, definitely, and adapting to the new age NBA, which is the three (pointer).”
A year after all-star DeMar DeRozan, who was facing free agency, made his intentions about staying in Toronto crystal clear, Lowry had some fun verbally sparring with reporters, who asked several times about his intentions.
“You know what? That’s a good question. Haven’t thought about it though,” he said with a wry smile. “I’ve said that three times already. Four. That’ll be my fourth time. I’m going to say it one more time. Only thing I’ve thought about is opting out. Which I will do. And getting better as a basketball player. Those two things.
“Want to try again?” laughed Lowry, who had a player option for next year worth US$12 million, but stands to earn significantly more.
Can the team get to where it wants to go without Lowry?
“It would be difficult,” Casey said.
Lowry led the Raptors past Milwaukee in the opening round of the playoffs and was Toronto’s best player in Games 1 and 2 against Cleveland. A sprained ankle saw him miss the last two games.
“Man, it sucked,” he said. “I wanted to be out there with my teammates and I wanted to play. Sitting on the bench in Game 3 suited up and knowing I can’t play, Game 4 sitting there trying to help my team no matter what it was — helping them see plays, coach — it just sucks that I wasn’t able to help my team.”
Whether Lowry chooses to stay or go, DeRozan said he’ll support whatever decision his friend and teammate makes.
“I never looked at it or tried to put it into perspective, what it would be like without him,” DeRozan said. “It’s going to be a decision on him that he’s going to have to make, and I support him 100 per cent.
“We gained something that goes way beyond basketball. So that’s why when it comes to things like this, I don’t put the pressure on him, or I don’t say: do this, do that. He’s got to make the decision, as a friend I’ve got to be there to support him.”
Ibaka, who was acquired with Tucker at February’s trade deadline to inject some much-needed toughness, said he hasn’t thought about his future, but that “I have fun here. I like the city, I like the fans.”
Tucker proved his worth in the playoffs, particularly in Game 4 against Cleveland when he forced LeBron James to make six turnovers.
Tucker had the line of the afternoon when asked if he prefers to play a physical or finesse game?
“Have you ever watched me play?” he shot back with a laugh. “I don’t think I have any finesse in my game at all. The most dirty, rugged, nasty-looking stuff you’ve ever seen in your life. That’s me.”
Lowry and DeRozan had kind words for Casey.
“Even when we had our bad days, our good days, we stuck by him,” DeRozan said. “One thing about Case, Case is one hell of a person outside of a coach.”
Lowry said he and Casey have butted heads but added the coach allowed him to “become a three-time all-star and allow me to become the player I am and have a voice.”
Casey “helped me be me, a better man, a better basketball player,” said Lowry.
“I think our relationship has grown from here,” Lowry added, holding up a hand, “to here.”
Raptors president Masai Ujiri is scheduled to meet with the media on Tuesday.