Moving on necessary for Raptors, Kyle Lowry to begin next chapters

Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry spoke to the media about his time in Toronto and how he will handle his emotions when he returns.

The 2021-22 NBA schedule hasn’t been released yet, but Kyle Lowry is already dreading part of it.

At some point he’s going to have to return to play at Scotiabank Arena under the championship banner he helped win, against teammates and coaches he won it with and in front of fans who embraced and ultimately adored him over nine seasons, and he’s not sure he’ll be able to handle it.

"Just being honest, I’m not looking forward to that first game being back because I know there will be a tribute and I know I’m gonna cry; I’m not looking forward to it," Lowry said Friday during his first media availability since signing a three-year, $90 million contract to join the Miami Heat in free agency. "I remember my time there as home. It will really always be home. The fans, the friends I made, the people I met throughout my time, the relationships I built, the communities that I helped and the people that I helped in the communities, it’s hard to put that into perspective of one kind of sentence or paragraph.

"It’s a culmination of a lot of things. When I retire I’ll go back and really think about everything that I’ve done in that place. It’s too much to put into words."

But for all the Raptors and Toronto came to mean to Lowry and for everything he still has to offer on the floor — the Heat see him as the difference-maker on a roster they expect to contend for an NBA title — there was a sense of inevitability about Lowry leaving, from both sides.

Unlike other occasions where beloved Raptors either moved on in free agency or — in the case of DeMar DeRozan — were traded, this was an amicable parting.

Lowry said the writing was on the wall as the trying 2020-21 season played out.

"I think throughout the season myself and [Raptors president Masai Ujiri], we had great conversations. ... He was very open with me and I was very open with him. We continued to keep a very open dialogue no matter what was going on," Lowry said. "I think the direction Toronto is going in is they want to give the opportunities to Freddie [VanVleet], Pascal [Siakam], OG [Anunoby], a couple young guys, the young draft picks they have to see what they can do. They have some great core pieces. I spoke about it: They’re in great hands and great shape. ...

"It was a situation for me where it was an opportunity to do something different to put myself in a spot for my family and my kids to grow and be happy. It’s time to turn the page in the book."

The Raptors were going younger, trying to add to what they identified as an existing core, and re-signing a 35-year-old point guard when they already had VanVleet under contract and had drafted Malachi Flynn didn’t fit with the plan.

“You probably have to go back to the second half of our season, you probably could see the direction the team was going and jumping up in the draft to get the fourth pick, I think philosophically going young became kind of a more desirable path,” said Raptors general manager Bobby Webster.

Not that it was an easy decision to move on from Lowry, at least on a personal level.

"Emotionally, it’s tough," Webster said. "It’s a kid that grew up here, pre-dated myself, I think he was in many ways, I think he was the last player from the roster when we came in, in 2013. I think emotionally there’s a ton of good feelings and affection and all of those things."

Lowry may be looking ahead to his return to Toronto with the Heat with some trepidation, but he’s excited about starting a new chapter in his remarkable career with a franchise that seems to align with his values: complete commitment to winning.

"I’m excited. I’m really excited," Lowry said. "I’m not a crazy, fiery-type yelling guy, except when I’m on the court [but] I’m really excited for the opportunity. I don’t want to talk about it too much. I just want to be out there at a high level and try to take this organization to a level where it once was and get back to the Finals where they were a year ago and get some championships."

The Raptors have goals to do the same thing — certainly, the announcement that Ujiri was going to be staying with the team was accompanied with a clearly stated goal of winning. But their path there is not quite as direct, even as they go about building on the strengths of their young veterans all under contract for at least the next three seasons.

"We think we have a pretty good foundation in place," Webster said. "Players that have been part of the organization for a while. Players that are under contract for a number of years so there's not a ton of immediate pressure or immediate decision-making. And we're excited about the young guys. I think having three picks in this year's draft and having some of the younger players coming off the bench, ... we haven't fully restocked the cupboard, but I think that's the direction that we're heading."

Part of that plan was acquiring rookie Heat big man Precious Achiuwa and veteran point guard Goran Dragic as part of the sign-and-trade arrangement that allowed Lowry to make his way to the Heat even though Miami was over the salary cap.

Achiuwa is 22 years old and very much someone the Raptors were targeting in the 2020 draft before the Heat took him 20th overall. Dragic is clearly a potential trade asset the Raptors can use to add another young prospect of draft capital as the season unfolds.

"Precious is a huge part of this deal for us," Webster said. "We really liked him last year in the draft, so I think that was, for us, a huge get in the sense of a young player that we like and fits. At the same time, we got Goran, he’s a legend, from that perspective he still plays a high level, he provides a lot of leadership and veteran steadiness on a team, so those were both players that we liked."

But the player that they and almost everyone associated with the Raptors loved had to go to make that happen.

Shed no tears for Lowry though. When he was heading into free agency for likely the very last time, he said his priorities were money, term and a chance to win another title. At age 35 and heading into his 16th season, he’s got all three.

"It's [was] a tough decision and it's really kind of nerve-wracking for me because I sat back and watched it [but] to have the opportunity for me to be wanted was cool," Lowry said. "Because I put myself in a position to show people that I'm a winner and no matter what happens I'm gonna try to help a team win. And to be wanted is always a great feeling, no matter what the situation is in life. To be wanted is a good feeling."

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