Raptors president Masai Ujiri appeared at his press conference after trading on Thursday wearing a black T-shirt and a calm expression on his face. Kyle Lowry was in the neighborhood, Ujiri said, not playing golf, as one reporter had demanded, but preparing for Friday’s game – his 593rd Raptor. “I wish he had played golf,” Ujiri said. A few hours earlier, that Lowry would be in the competition building on Friday at all – let alone play in it – it was far from a guarantee.
“I know you wanted that farewell story, huh?” Ujiri joked. “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to postpone it. All those stories you have to postpone now.”
While almost everyone in the league expected the Raptors to make a deal with Lowry on time, Ujiri’s behavior showed no signs of disappointment or failure. It was clear that this was the position he and the Raptors had taken: less control of the damage caused by the trade that did not happen, and more messages that it was a pleasant surprise that Lowry still existed. Ujiri projected the calm confidence of a poker player who did not go all-in, but left the table.
Just over 24 hours after Ujiri spoke, Lowry appeared at a post-match press conference with his black T-shirt, gold “7” chain and a cap that read “GOLF”. He joked with the assembled media that they were the ones trying to kick him out of Toronto and that he couldn’t believe he spent 25 minutes on Wednesday answering questions about a store that wasn’t.
“It was a crazy day,” Lowry said. “The [Raptors] I felt worthy to be here and be a part of this franchise. It’s a big deal that I was appreciated here. “
While the Raptors have given all indications that they are ready to part with Lowry within a certain time frame, the unique relationship between the players and the team seems to allow both sides peace with the end result. Lowry and Ujiri realized aloud that crafts (and trade negotiations) were part of the nature of the business. And at a time when many other major NBA transactions have ended in burnt bridges or unceremonious departures, it’s hard not to appreciate the kindness of their relationship.
Yet now that Toronto is holding Lowry at least until the end of the season, the Raptors have to make a lot of other decisions. Both Lowry and Ujiri will be free agents this season, and although Ujiri spent most of his press conference answering questions about the deadline, he also put a few on his own future. He refused to give answers, only alluding to his love and connection with the Raptors, and used words and phrases like “flexibility” and “keeping options open.”
Lowry will have his own options at the end of the season, but is still in Toronto for now. And that gives the whole transition to the deadline a creepy undertone in retrospect. On Wednesday night, after a 135-111 win over the Nuggets, Lowry was celebrated as if he were leaving. He exited the arena through a tunnel, giving the camera a sign of peace. Postgame, he asked questions if this could have been his last outing with the team, and even answered FaceTime’s call from Drake. All the signs indicated that he had stepped out the door with one foot. But on Friday, Lowry once again played in a Raptors uniform and will do so until the end of the season.
Even Ujiri admitted that a procedure similar to Wednesday’s prom was strange. “Honestly, when I saw the whole circus yesterday, I also didn’t feel like it might be the right path,” Ujiri said on Thursday. “It seemed a little surreal.”
Eventually few will remember the game in which Lowry just said goodbye. Instead, what will be remembered is that the Raptors kept Lowry through the 2020-21 season. And the reasons alternate between being crystal clear and a bit blurry.
Several reports about the deadline indicated that it was heat and Sixers were on the brink of events before they finally managed to materialize. One source from the office said he thought Toronto should have made a deal from Miami if it included Duncan Robinson, which was often reported. But at least one report indicated that Toronto wants Tyler Herro. Ujiri reiterated on Thursday that the Raptors rated Lowry higher than any other, and said he believed Lowry could be the part pushing the team from candidate to title winner – after all, Lowry did just that for Toronto in the 2018-19 season. . Therefore, the president admitted that he was surprised that no team was ready to reach the price of the Raptors.
For the past few years Lowry has been the captain of a ship that has not always sailed smoothly. He anchored Toronto during seasons when disappointment in the playoffs felt almost guaranteed, and their engine when he wasn’t the team’s best player, but probably the most important.
This year, Lowry’s role continued to evolve based on what the Raptors needed. In the season when the team moved to Tampa due to Canadian travel restrictions due to coronavirus and under the influence of viruses as well as other injuries, Lowry was his emotional cornerstone. “He always shepherds us through these moments,” Ujiri said. “To be honest, he’s just the strength and backbone of this team.”
Ujiri has repeatedly admitted that this season has been challenging at various levels for the Raptors. They did not lose their identity, but the circumstances around the team had a dampening effect. Ujiri said the group’s ability to persevere despite their environment being taken into account in making decisions within that time frame was difficult to assess what kind of team actually got all the changes and difficulties they went through. He thought they deserved a chance to fight for something this season, and if there wasn’t an agreement they liked, why not fight with their leader on their side?
“If we wanted to do something, Kyle would honestly do something right,” Ujiri said. “We respect that and we have to. We have come a long way, we owe him that respect as a player, as a person. ”
And so Ujiri and Lowry are left with the status quo. This creates a kind of team building for Toronto, but that may not be a bad thing – at least in the short term. Toronto is two games behind the slot machine in the play-off game and just four games behind the 8-seeders. Trading Lowry could mean going down the ladder of the East; his demeanor makes the Raptors a continuous threat and unattractive opponent in the first round.
Things get complicated in the long run. Ujiri has expressed the organization’s faith in its young core Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, but the team is still at a crossroads. Lowry will be an unlimited free agent this summer and will reportedly seek at least a two-year deal of $ 50 million. If he wants, he can simply sign with whoever offers it to him, or Toronto could try to organize a signing and trade that brings him at least part of the assets that the deadline shift would have.
With all the good vibes surrounding the relationship between Lowry and Toronto, one would think that these two sides could come to a conclusion. And maybe that’s the best the Raptors can hope for at the moment. That they will appreciate Lowry highly and keep the bar chart high, they can gain the good will to still get something for him when he leaves in the summer.
Then there is an option that would surprise people even more than the banned trading on Thursday. What if the Lowry and Raptors find a way to stay together after this summer? Lowry’s reports are high demands, but could some one-year deal allow both sides to extend their time together, while giving Toronto another chance to replace Lowry for a dignified return next season?
At the very least, he would allow Lowry’s last game for the franchise to come to Toronto, where fans who cheered for him for nine seasons would be present to chant his name. But chances are equal that by the start of next season, Lowry and Ujiri will be playing sports colors instead. Even the best stories in the NBA rarely get a happy ending.