The former is a foregone conclusion, a fact that permeates everything the defending NBA champions have done so far this season and may yet as they get set to defend their title in the midst of a pandemic.
The latter is fun to think about and an unintended consequence of the season being put on hiatus for more than four months.
But the premise is indisputable.
Lowry became an all-star sharing top billing with DeMar DeRozan for six seasons and became a champion working with and around Kawhi Leonard for one.
But now the 34-year-old is the face and voice and conscience of a team that deeply believes they can repeat, and his influence is everywhere.
Perhaps most significantly as the Raptors ease into their routines for what could be a long stay in the NBA ‘bubble’ at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, complaints will be at a minimum.
Lowry’s not shy to voice his displeasure, so that he’s not absolutely matters.
Among the ways the 14-year NBA veteran filled his time at home in Villanova [a Philadelphia suburb] beyond helping his boys with school work and fitting in the occasional game of golf was as part of the return-to-play committee that brought together a small group of players, league executives, team executives and union officials to help hammer out a vision for what playing in the midst of a global health crisis might actually entail.
Since arriving on July 9, Lowry has liked the picture he played a role in creating.
“I’m a big fan of how everything has come together and to see the work that the league has put in and the time they’ve put in,” Lowry said on a conference call from Disney World, his first interview since the NBA season was halted on March 11.
“… [The] protocols are unbelievable. I think [the NBA’s] protocols and our health and safety measures have been top notch, I think this thing will work perfectly, I think the league, the player’s association has done a great job — a phenomenal job — of making sure that we’re doing everything that we can possibly do to make sure that we’re healthy, we’re safe and we’re in an environment where we can be successful and to do our jobs at a high level.”
It’s not a small thing, Lowry’s involvement and his stamp of approval. The Raptors goal is to repeat as champions which will require them to stay in the bubble until the second week of October and spend nearly nine weeks apart from their families – a significant sacrifice for Lowry, a doting dad to his young boys.
If Lowry wasn’t all in, the Raptors chances would be on life support before the ball ever went up. But Lowry is all in and his team is following suit.
“There’s a lot of facets of getting this done,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after his club’s third practice in Florida. “We want to perform at our best and this situation [the pandemic] has put kind of another whole strand of things you’ve got to do if you want to get to where you want to go.
“It’s kind of almost been put in front of everything else, the conditioning, the play and the chemistry and the toughness and riding the ups and downs, whatever, all that stuff that’s kind of normal basketball.
“[But] now you’ve got a strand of taking care of yourself and doing what you’re supposed to do … that if you don’t do then you’re not going to get started on that road.
“[Lowry] was a big part with the Players Association of getting us here and obviously again, he’s a leader and he was a part of that.
“And having him as the guy who’s kind of setting the example — he’ll say to these guys, ‘take this stuff seriously, take these protocols seriously, let’s be smart and let’s do it’ and I think it certainly resonates with the rest of the team.”
It will be fascinating to see how the entire experience resonates with Lowry and carries over into his play.
As the Raptors evolved into playoff constants under Lowry’s watch – this will mark their seventh straight post-season appearance – figuring out how to make sure a player who competes as hard as he does hits the post-season with plenty of gas in the tank has been an ongoing experiment.
That’s not an issue this time around. Lowry looks lean and fit and has come out of the lockdown in peak condition.
What will a fully fresh, healthy, fit Lowry be capable of once the ball goes up is a tantalizing prospect and would seem to bode well for his 46-18 club that stands second in the East and third in the NBA overall but remains overlooked as a contender due to a perceived lack of superstar power.
Lowry will be required to fill that void and Nurse is confident he’s up to the task.
“I think he’s playing at a level, this year higher than ever before. He’s played fantastic,” said Nurse. “… He had an amazing playoffs last year, all right, so there’s a confidence component that’s kind of there. I think he’s learned a little bit each year about his about his body and conditioning and extending that finish line.
“I think he’s just smarter in that way and, and I think he’s got tremendous confidence. And I think, as well, he knows he’s got to be kind of a main cog, right? He’s got to, you know, produce offensively for us.
“You know he’s always gonna play hard and make the defensive plays, but he’s got to be a main factor in the offence and he kind of carries himself that way I think this year a lot more.
… [I think] he’s going to be a hell of a player in the playoffs.”
Lowry comes back to work with a clear mind.
He was active with the Black Lives Matter protest in the wake of the killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis something that resonated deeply.
“It wasn’t just the George Floyd protests,” he said. “It was the protest of social injustices. It was protests for Black people in general. We are in a time where we need to keep that conversation going. We need to be heard from. We need to speak loud and clear. We need to understand that things need to be done for the situation to be changed, laws to be changed. Opportunities need to be given for things to be better. It wasn’t just about one person …. this time we needed to speak up and needed to do something.
“For me to be a part of that, that’s who I am. That’s how I am. That’s how I grew up. I grew up a Black man in America. It’s definitely a tough thing to grow up that way, because you never know what could possibly happen to you. You never know if you’re going to make it out. For me to be able to talk to you guys is a blessing. So, for me to be able to do that, it’s my right, my duty and my honour to represent the Black culture.”
But for the weight of the social unrest following the Floyd murder and all the tragedies and challenges of the pandemic, for those fortunate enough to avoid the worst of them the break from routine and a pause in life that often feels like it’s flying by at a breakneck pace can be rejuvenating. Lowry quarantine experience was no different.
“To be able to be home with my family and enjoy my family time was great. I got to see my kids. I got to put my kids to bed almost every single night. I haven’t done that in their whole lives,” he said. “To be home and be around them and to see them grow and to help them with their schoolwork and to sit there with them on Zooms, to be able to be there and interact with them all the time, it helped me grow even more as a father, as a man. It made me appreciate my wife a little bit more and my family a lot more because my kids, they’re a handful. But they’re awesome. My time at home was great.”
And now it’s time to get back to work, and Lowry – and his team – couldn’t be more ready for what is to come.