What to do with Lowry at the deadline

(Photo: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty)
February 19, 2014, 4:24 PM

She lies and says she’s in love with him/Can’t find a better man —Pearl Jam

It was just after the Christmas break last season that Kyle Lowry lost his job. After earning a gig as the Raptors starting point guard in his first season in Toronto, the Villanova product was hit by a string of injuries. By the time he was healthy again, it was too late: Jose Calderon had reclaimed his spot atop the Raptors’ point guard pyramid, his steady guidance providing coach Dwane Casey with a safer option than the shaky brilliance of Lowry.

Today, that seems like a lifetime ago.

Lowry reclaimed the starter’s spot when Calderon was shipped to Detroit as part of the Rudy Gay trade (the first one) and has since established himself as the driving force behind a Raptors team that’s clawed its way to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. With his contract running out in just a few short months, re-signing Lowry seems like a long-term solution at a position that’s traditionally been something of a weakness for this franchise. But locking Lowry down isn’t as simple as it seems.

When GM Masai Ujiri was first hired, Lowry’s departure seemed like a sure thing. The point guard had come to Toronto under Bryan Colangelo’s regime, and with an expiring deal and an unproven track record, he didn’t seem likely to factor into Ujiri’s long-term plans—and rightfully so. If there were any doubt, a failed Dec. 13 trade that would have sent Lowry to the New York Knicks and was reportedly nixed at the last minute confirmed as much.

In the 32 games since, Lowry has responded to the proposed deal by putting up career numbers—averaging 18.5 points and 8.2 assists per game—and helping the Raptors to a 21-11 record.

So with the trade deadline less than 24 hours away, what do you do with Lowry if you’re Ujiri?

There are essentially three options, and an argument can be made for each:

Option 1: Re-sign him at (almost) any cost. Just look at what Lowry has provided this team this season: an unrelenting engine on the court and bona fide leadership off of it. He’s become somebody you want—maybe even need—to keep around if you plan on keeping the team’s current core together (and why wouldn’t you?). Lowry is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, however, meaning the Raps will not have the opportunity to match offers from other teams—and there will be offers. But, for what it’s worth, Lowry is also in the best situation of his career in Toronto and he has never been valued more than he is on this team. You’d have to think he’d want to come back, but as they say in Spinal Tap, “money talks and bulls—t walks.”

Option 2: Let him walk. Lowry is playing with more than one chip on his shoulder at the moment. He’s out to prove Ujiri wrong for wanting to move him; he’s out to prove that he should have been an all-star; and, most importantly, he’s out to prove that when his contract is up, he deserves a big payday. Countless players who’ve come before him have stepped up big in a contract year, been awarded financially and never played at the same level again.

I don’t think Lowry is wired like that. He seems like the sort who has too much pride to sit back and enjoy the rewards, but it’s always a risk in these situations.

Then there’s the price. Considering how weak the free-agent point guard class is this summer, it’s safe to say Lowry won’t come cheap. Based on the current market, he’ll likely draw a three- or four-year contract somewhere in the range of $8-million a year. That cost—and commitment—may be too much for the Raptors.

Option 3: Ship him out. Unless you’re willing to unload a Brinks truck on Lowry or take a gamble in free agency, it’s now or never to get a return for him—something, after all, is better than nothing.

But here’s the deal: Lowry may not have been Ujiri’s first choice heading into the next few season, but his play this year has likely changed that.

In the course of three months, Lowry has gone from expendable to essential. And with his alternatives looking bleak, it’s becoming more clear with each game that Ujiri is far better off with Lowry than without him.

There’s a Pearl Jam song—‘Better Man’—that suits Ujiri’s situation perfectly. It’s about a woman who learns to love the man she’s with, even if he’s not her ideal choice. Ujiri should lie and say he’s in love with Lowry, because he can’t find a better man.

Actually, there’s another song lyric that I think works even better: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

Yeah, that works nicely.

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