Saying goodbye to one of the greatest players in a franchise’s history is never easy. There are countless memories, from heartbreaking defeats to moments of triumph that resonate with an entire city. Often, they become reflective of an unforgettable era of basketball.
Kyle Lowry has become Toronto’s adopted son and the face of the Raptors’ franchise. But it almost never happened. If Steve Nash had decided to play in Toronto instead of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 or if James Dolan doesn’t veto a trade that would have brought Lowry to the New York Knicks in 2013, Lowry never becomes the most beloved player in Raptors history.
In hindsight, the partnership between the two was a hand-in-glove fit. Lowry is the embodiment of an underdog, frequently overlooked throughout his career similar to the franchise since their inception in 1995. In short, Lowry helped to re-legitimize the Raptors in the years after Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and others left town – and the Raptors helped to legitimize Lowry.
But now they face a looming trade deadline decision on how to proceed with Kyle Lowry. The Toronto legend is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the upcoming offseason and, with the Raptors in the midst of a disappointing season, trading the point guard may be on the table. At age 34, Lowry still has a lot left in the tank and, if he’s available, would be the biggest trade target on the market right now.
Needless to say, a Lowry trade has the potential to swing the title odds. Certainly, he’s great enough to be the missing piece for title hopefuls like the Miami HEAT and his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. Such a deal would likely bring back some assortment of draft picks and young players, which could be a valuable return for the Raptors. However, there is an emotional attachment to Lowry and, to many in Toronto, he could mean too much to trade.
The Raptor franchise and fanbase are used to saying goodbye to their best players. Carter and the Raptors had an ugly split before he was traded to the New Jersey Nets. Chris Bosh departed to join the Big Three in Miami. DeMar DeRozan, one of the most beloved Raptors ever, was traded for Kawhi Leonard, who also left after bringing the franchise their first-ever NBA championship.
With Lowry, however, things are different. He would be leaving as the longest-tenured Raptor ever. Unlike the aforementioned departures, Lowry’s would appear to be an amicable one. He has already stated that no matter what happens he will retire a Raptor.
As far as precedent goes, there aren’t many instances of a team trading away their best player in franchise history when they’re still playing at a high-level and won a championship with them.
But the Detroit Pistons traded away the revered Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets in 2008, although Billups never came close to being their best player in history. The New Jersey Nets traded Jason Kidd to the Mavericks who was also in his aged 34 season, but he came up short of bringing a championship to the Nets.
The Kyle Lowry situation is rather unique. Often times the best player in a franchise’s history departs when their play begins to drop-off due to age or injury like Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing. The best historical correlation to Lowry is probably the Grizzlies trading away Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but those two never won a championship with Memphis.
Of course, Lowry has already cemented his place in Toronto history. The re-emergence of Lowry as a player and the Raptors as a franchise are directly correlated. Lowry is now a six-time All-Star, all with Toronto, and even reached an All-NBA team during the 2015- 16 season. The countless defeats to the Cleveland Cavaliers and early playoff exits only made the championship that much sweeter.
Lowry was not the best player on their championship team, that was Leonard. However, Lowry was the team’s emotional leader and routinely showed up in big moments. His incredible championship-clinching Game 6 in the 2019 NBA Finals will forever be remembered in Toronto.
Regardless of what happens at the deadline, the franchise and fanbase can rest assured knowing that, unlike the previous departures of their stars, Lowry will not leave with unfinished business. Lowry has accomplished all he possibly could in his time there.
If the Raptors decide to keep Lowry, his ultimate free agency will be interesting. The Raptors do have cap space and his bird rights, but how comfortable would they be giving big money or a long-term deal to a 35-year-old on a non-contending team? Whether in a month or three, some sort of breakup seems like a dependable likelihood.
Whether or not Lowry will be wearing a Raptors jersey after the trade deadline remains to be seen. Some will remember him for coming up with big plays time and time again; some will remember him for his ability to shift the momentum of a basketball game by drawing a charge at the absolute perfect moment.
Most will remember his face when he first lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy – but everyone will remember Kyle Lowry as the greatest Toronto Raptor ever.