TORONTO – “Kyle will be all business.”
That’s what Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri said to expect of Kyle Lowry’s forthcoming 2018-19 NBA season, his seventh with the organization.
Gone is the head coach that he managed to work though some rough times and help turn him into the four-time all-star point guard we see today.
And, perhaps most importantly, gone is his best friend and fellow all-star backcourt running mate DeMar DeRozan.
On Monday, during the Raptors media day, Lowry held court in a very familiar building, in front of some very familiar people, but looked altogether unfamiliar in his setting.
Among the most common sights around Raptors media availabilities over the past five years has been Lowry flanked alongside DeRozan, who would often loosen up Lowry and at least make answering reporters’ questions somewhat bearable.
Around DeRozan, Lowry’s surly demeanour was more a fun quirk than anything else.
At Scotiabank Arena Monday morning however, after sauntering up to the podium all by his lonesome, it seems clear that the gruff manner he was fielding questions wasn’t with tongue planted in cheek.
“I’m here to do my job,” Lowry said of how he’s feeling heading into training camp. “One thing about me is I’ve always been prepared to come in and try to win a championship. I’ve always been given an opportunity to go out there and do me, and come back ready to go, in shape, ready to play. My mindset never changes: Come to work for the Toronto Raptors, try to win a gold ball.”
That Lowry was a little effusive in answering the question isn’t surprising, but reading between the lines here, it’s interesting that he’s specifically using language relating his time this season with the Raptors to just an everyday job.
This isn’t to say it’s uncommon for him, or any other athlete, to refer to their basketball careers and the teams they play for as regular work, but Lowry seemed particularly combative Monday, even daring the Toronto Sun‘s Steve Simmons to ask a question at one point, and the reason being seems clear: He’s still upset that the team traded DeRozan.
“My best friend, our relationship is bigger than basketball,” Lowry said of DeRozan. “I talked to him last night. We talked about life. That’s still my boy. At the end of the day, I’m coming here to work. I’ve done that every year since I’ve been here.”
Lowry’s raw feelings are understandable, but part of his job as the point guard of the Raptors is to get to know his new teammates, and by the sounds of things he hasn’t done too well in that regard thus far.
“Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him,” Lowry said of his new star teammate Kawhi Leonard. “I saw him this morning, we spoke, but we’ll have a full season, we have a full week of training camp to get to know each other.”
And though the situation is different since the two have known each other from his time as an assistant, Lowry says he also hasn’t been in much contact with his new head coach Nick Nurse.
“I haven’t talked to coach since he got the job,” said Lowry. “The first night he got the job, we had a conversation. That’s what training camp is for, to get everybody back on the same page, get guys familiarized with each other, the offence, and what he wants to put in.”
This would all be par for the course if the Raptors had a normal off-season, but they didn’t. These were sweeping changes to a team that will likely be looking to Lowry for some leadership, and he not only never spoke to anyone in the media about the trade over the summer, it looks like he never got in contact with any of his teammates.
It’s not a good look, particularly for a club with a bunch of new pieces and very lofty expectations and not a whole lot of time to get everything to fit just right.
For what it’s worth, Leonard seems open to getting on the right page with Lowry during camp.
“Just experience, us telling each other what we’ve both been through, him already playing in the East, and going through the schedule this season and just in my experience, how we got deep in the playoffs and won a championship,” Leonard said of his conversation with Lowry. “We’ve just got to keep asking each other questions, and once we play together, that’s when you learn the most from each other.”
So the two at least seem amenable to try to work this whole thing out, and will have 22 days to figure it all out before this thing starts getting very real, very fast.
For Lowry, gone now are the goofy antics up on the podium with his best friend. Taking their place looks like the Lowry who first came to Toronto in a July 2012 trade with the Houston Rockets: Pissed off and distrustful.
That Lowry, in his second season with the club right after he was reportedly nearly dealt to the New York Knicks, helped lead the Raptors to an Atlantic Division crown and break a five-year playoff drought.
At age 32, with only this season and the next left on his contract, Lowry likely doesn’t have much time left as a Raptor, so Ujiri and Co. could be looking to bring back that guy for one last go-around.
“My views are to be the best player I can be. I come to this thing every year to win a championship, no matter who I’m playing for or where I’m playing for,” said Lowry.
As he’s said all summer, Ujiri made the moves he did because he wants to win a championship. An angry Lowry could be the catalyst to make it happen.