The Toronto Raptors season started with a dud and that was okay for most fans to accept. The reason, the 2014 draft, widely regarded to be the best draft since 2003, when a guy named Lebron James was drafted.
Then, something happened that flipped the script completely. Rudy Gay was traded on December 8th to the Sacramento Kings and the team had a game that night against the Los Angeles Lakers, in the return of Kobe Bryant.
The Raptors played three men short, as Rudy, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray were all on their way to becoming Kings, and the four players the Toronto Raptors got in return wouldn’t be able to suit up before physicals.
Kobe didn’t play well and the Raptors, behind a career-high 32 points from Amir Johnson cruised to a victory after a five game losing streak.
If you have followed the Toronto Raptors season, you know what happened next.
The Raptors went 7-3 for the rest of December, with two of those losses coming to perennial championship contenders in the San Antonio Spurs. The other was a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on a buzzer-beater by Kemba Walker.
During that stretch they had impressive road wins against the Dallas Mavericks, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, which gave the Thunder their first home loss of the season.
Dwane Casey won the Coach of the Month award for his teams effort, becoming just the third coach to win the award in team history.
As they moved into the new year, the team faced a dilemma, a pleasantly surprising dilemma, but a dilemma none the less.
I stated in my tanking piece that the question was no longer should they tank, but whether they even could. When you look at the bottom of East you see misery and despair. But you also see hope, because those dreadful teams, like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic are looking at getting a top-5 draft pick.
Which ultimately brings me to the point. The Toronto Raptors shopped Kyle Lowry soon after the Gay trade. The New York Knicks were the supposed trade partner, but their owner, James Dolan, apparently nixed the deal.
In the meantime, Lowry has emerged as the leader of a team on the rise. His play has warranted an All-Star selection, and he even cracked the top ten on the NBA.com MVP watch at one point.
Now, from ESPN’s Mark Stein, we have an indication that the Raptors are still shopping him.
Trade rumble: Sense around league remains Toronto more likely to trade Kyle Lowry than keep him to prevent losing asset for nothing. But …
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 27, 2014
Issue here hasn’t changed: No team out there willing YET to meet Raps’ asking price for PG who, nice as he’s playin, can bolt in free agency
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 27, 2014
So the question is, should the Toronto Raptors trade Lowry? He who has been such a huge catalyst for this improving ball club.
GM Masai Ujiri is no stranger to big deals. He was at the helm of the Denver Nuggets when he traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks.
The Nuggets consequently went on to embrace a team-ball philosophy, which brought them great success during Ujiri’s tenure.
When he arrived in Toronto this past off-season, he quickly made his presence felt when he traded the much maligned Andrea Bargnani. While the return wasn’t great, the point was that where former GM Bryan Colangelo failed to act, Ujiri acted decisively to rid the Raptors of a poisonous element.
Then the season started, and as mentioned, the team was losing. I don’t think the Gay trade was anything other than a calculated salary dump, and not an indication that the team wanted to tank at that point. Although, I also don’t think the expectation was that the Toronto Raptors would go on a tear.
They climbed to the top of the weak Atlantic Division, and have been ensconced in the top 4 of the Eastern conference as a result. Their odds of making the playoffs are 99%, with only a disastrous collapse forcing them out. So in all likelihood, we will be seeing the Raptors in the playoffs.
So again, should the Raptors trade Kyle Lowry?
Ultimately, that decision will rest on what Lowry will net in return. As Stein said, no team has yet to offer an acceptable deal, stressing on the yet. Does that mean some team will open up their coffers and part with a draft pick and a promising young player?
Adding another wrinkle to the issue is Lowry’s expiring contract. A team that wants to trade for Lowry will likely want to keep him in the fold next year.
This creates a problem. If Ujiri is hoping for a high draft pick in return, he will be looking at weak teams. Lowry probably doesn’t want to help a team rebuild at this point in his career, especially with how he has performed this season.
This also impacts the Raptors, trade or not. Lowry hasn’t spoken of his intentions when he becomes a free agent. However, it doesn’t take a psychologist to see that he is probably not going to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors.
I say this because when looking at past players in the Raptors franchise, most of their star players ultimately left, either waiting for free agency like Chris Bosh, or pouting their way off like Vince Carter.
So taking all of that into consideration, you can begin to see how this is a dilemma. The Toronto Raptors could go on a huge run in the playoffs and surprise everyone. Or they could lose in the first round and then lose Lowry.
Either way, Lowry is (likely) gone. So should they trade him now to avoid losing him for nothing, or keep him knowing their chances are going to be better with him? Another option is to keep him, and then do a sign-and-trade, but the return in that scenario would be far less than a trade now.
If this was a league where Lebron and the Miami Heat didn’t exist, or the Indiana Pacers were not so good, it would be better to keep him. The reality though is that the Heat and Pacers are the benchmark, and Lowry or not, the Raptors don’t measure up.
So my heart says to keep him, and hope for the best; but my brain says trade him, and trade him now.