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Free Agent Kyle Lowry Seeks Championship

Kyle Lowry opens up about his unrestricted free agency, and makes it clear that he wants to play for a contender.

Alex Kennedy

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At 28 years old, Kyle Lowry wants to compete for a championship. He has only been to the postseason twice in his eight-year NBA career and while he enjoyed both experiences, he is at the point where he wants to contend for a title and simply making the playoffs isn’t good enough.

As Lowry enters unrestricted free agency next week, that’s one of the main factors that he’ll consider as he weighs his options. Lowry wants to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in the near future, and this summer he could put himself in position to do that.

“I think the right situation is somewhere I’m winning and being happy, and honestly I want to play for a championship,” Lowry told Basketball Insiders. “I’m happy with making the playoffs and doing that, but the end game for all players should be a championship and that’s what I want to play for. I want to play for a championship.”

The Miami HEAT have been mentioned as a potential suitor for Lowry should LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh opt out and free up some cap space in Miami. If contending is truly Lowry’s top priority, the HEAT have to be considered an attractive destination for the point guard. When asked if he has given any thought to joining the HEAT, Lowry would only say that he hasn’t given the rumors much thought at this point.

“I haven’t really thought about too much lately with free agency because it’s still not here,” Lowry said. “Until something’s actually put down on the table, I mean rumors are just rumors. It’s just like the trade deadline – rumors are rumors until something is actually done. For me, I can’t think about what if or what could happen. I’m just focused on what’s realistic and what’s factual and what’s on paper. … I’m not worrying about the things that I can’t control until July 1, 12:01 on Tuesday.”

Lowry will be highly coveted this summer as he’s the top point guard on the market and coming off of a career-year in which he averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He’s excited to enter free agency and have some say over his future. He has been dealt twice in his NBA career and has constantly been mentioned in trade rumors, so he’s looking forward to controlling the process this time around.

“It’s very nice,” Lowry said. “It’s rewarding for the hard work that you put in. I think every player when they get the chance to go through free agency and pick and choose where they want to go and what they want to do with their career and life, it’s an amazing feeling. Especially when you work as hard as I do, and I think it took me a while to get to this position and this point, so I’m just going to enjoy it and be happy.”

MUST READ: The 2014-15 NBA Free Agent List

While Lowry will certainly meet with teams and weigh all of his options this offseason, a return to the Raptors is still a possibility as well. Toronto is coming off of an incredible 48-win season in which they finished as the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

“It was fun,” Lowry said of Toronto’s successful season. “I think it was one of those things where we expected it internally, but no one on the outside expected it. Internally, though, we expected to do something special and we said it from day one. For it to come true and to go the way it went, yeah it was fantastic and it was a joy to be a part of.”

When Lowry looks at the Raptors’ roster, he gets optimistic and thinks that the best is yet to come. If he were to re-sign with Toronto and the team returned as currently assembled, he believes the future could be bright. When asked how good the Raptors can be, Lowry doesn’t hesitate.

“Honestly, I’ve thought about it and I think the answer is very good,” Lowry said. “We have a lot of very good young pieces. It all starts with DeMar [DeRozan], and I think Jonas [Valanciunas] and Terrence [Ross] could be really good. I think that the team as a whole could be really good. Last year was a great year; we had a bunch of guys who just wanted to go out there and win games. Everyone was very unselfish and knew what was at stake and wanted to be a good team. I think the team is very talented. I think it’s very good upside for the Raptors.”

It’s easy to forget that before the Raptors started stringing together wins and climbing the standings, they were playing awful basketball and looking like a bottom feeder in the East. They got off to a very slow start on the season, sitting at 7-13. Shortly after, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri started putting his fingerprints on the franchise, trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings.

For a moment, it seemed like Toronto might overhaul the roster and rebuild. The team’s other veterans were suddenly questioning their standing with the team, and Lowry admits he thought he was going to be sent packing.

“Honestly, I thought I was going to get traded,” Lowry said. “I thought it was going to be a done deal, to be honest. But Masai was very open and up front with me, and I understood everything that was going on. So it wouldn’t have been a surprise if it would have happened because he was up front. And, of course, I think every player should know that they can be traded at any moment, at any time. It’s a business. All I have to do is be a professional and go out there and do my job.”

Rather than trading Lowry, Ujiri decided to keep the Raptors intact and the team exceeded all expectations to finish the season. In recent months, Lowry and Ujiri have developed a close relationship and they talk often, which is important to the point guard because he wants to be on the same page as the person who is calling the shots in the front office.

“With me and him, our relationship is just an open one and a very honest one,” Lowry said of his bond with Ujiri. “And it starts with him. He’s a very open guy. He’s just very open and an honest guy and I really respect the things that he says to me. I think he always kind of liked my game and knew what I could do, but he heard of off the court issues and that other people had issues with me. He told me from day one he wanted me to be better – to be a better individual. When someone comes in and respects you and just wants to help you, you take pride in that and have respect for them as a man.”

This talk between Ujiri and Lowry really opened the point guard’s eyes. He had developed a reputation around the league for being difficult, having a bad attitude and challenging authority. He and Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale had an ugly, public feud and Lowry was viewed by some as a negative locker room presence.

This season, Lowry wanted to change that. He got married last July, which started his maturation process, and then he left his honeymoon early in order to spend more time training at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas. He hired a private chef, understanding that in order to be a great player in the NBA one must take care of their body. When he arrived in Toronto for training camp, he was a different person – helping the young players and emerging as a leader.

“I do for sure [feel that I’ve matured and changed],” Lowry said. “Honestly, I really believe that. I really just grew up and I was just more comfortable in my own skin and understood what was needed from me and what was expected of me.”

Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball noticed the change in Lowry as soon as he arrived in Las Vegas for his offseason training, and started predicting that the point guard would have a breakout season.

“Kyle’s approach has been exceptional and he has really grown as a person,” Abunassar told me in December. “I think that has really translated to helping his game. He has been focused and he understands what being a top player in the NBA takes. It’s more than just basketball – it’s how he’s carrying himself and working. … I’ve seen huge, huge growth from him, especially these last eight months.”

Lowry was arguably the biggest snub from the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season, with many fans, media and players believing that he should’ve made the team. While he says that missing out on the honor didn’t bother him, he did make it clear that he’d like to be on the All-Star team before his career comes to an end.

“The snub doesn’t bother me at all,” Lowry said. “I don’t worry about things like that because I can’t control who they pick, who the coaches pick. All I can do is go out there and do my job. For me, I’m always motivated. I don’t need more motivation. My goal is always to be the best player I can be, and for me, being an All-Star is one of the best players you can be. So that’s always a goal of mine, as an individual goal, but my main goal is just to win.”

There’s that word again. Lowry is at the stage in his career where he wants to win above all else. Keep that in mind as he meets with suitors and considers his free-agent options in the coming weeks.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?

The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.

Bobby Krivitsky

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After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.

Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.

Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.

Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

 

 

While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).

One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.

Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.

So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.

Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.

If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season. 

Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.

If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.

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NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford

Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.

Dylan Thayer

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As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt. 

Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School. 

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.

During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie. 

“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”

If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball. 

Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.

As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause. 

This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.

The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors. 

As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core. 

Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford. 

Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to. 

Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.

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NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future

Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.

Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.

If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.

The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.

Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.

There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.

The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.

It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.

But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.

Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.

Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.

But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.

Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.

That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).

Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.

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