(Note: I started this piece earlier in the week and literally just finished listening to this week's Free Association. Some of my concerns that I had already laid out prior to listening were addressed on the show by JD Bunkis. I apologize if it seems redundant, but I explain it a bit differently while adding in my own points. No plagiarism or ripping off was intended, at all!)
Earlier last weekend, Donnovan Bennett wrote an article on SportsNet laying out 9 reasons why the Raptors ought to sign and trade Kyle Lowry in the off-season. Since then, many other beat writers, bloggers, and a few other reputable writers have commented on Bennett's piece, most of which opposed his argument. Seeing as though I consider myself nothing more than a blogger that commentates on the happenings of the Raptors, I figured I'd give my two cents.
Before I get into this, I want to say that I like Bennett's work and I appreciate his contributions on SportsNet, specifically Free Association. Moreover, I appreciate how he doesn't back down from his position, regardless of the negative reactions amongst fellow Raptors fans on Twitter. Producing such a controversial piece takes balls, and backing it up calmly and proudly takes even bigger balls. However, challenging each point in order to deduce a solid conclusion would be beneficial in order to get a better understanding as to what the Raptors ought to do with Lowry. I'm not sure that I agree or disagree with Bennett's reasoning, so it's best to see if any of his points can be challenged, if not all of them. So let's try.
(Note: Before we get into the minutia, if you haven't read the article and have no idea what I'm referring to, I encourage you to do so. It's linked in the first paragraph of this piece.)
Most of the disagreement from the fanbase with Bennett's piece is centered around the love for their All-Star point guard. As I've mentioned in other articles, Toronto sports fans are possessive when it comes to their favorite players of their sports teams and loathe the thought of seeing them in another team's jersey (Edwin, anybody?). Emotion is a tricky thing and I don't think it should ever be used as a basis to reach a conclusion when dealing with an analytical challenge. Our love and appreciation for Kyle Lowry is completely irrelevant as to whether or not the Raptors should sign and retain him, rather than trade or not re-sign him at all. Therefore, it's best if we leave that component out of this entirely. Bennett didn't reference our love for Lowry in the least, but based on some of the articles that I have read that oppose Bennett's position, it's based a lot on what Lowry has meant to us as fans. I cannot stress enough how important it is to ignore this. GM's and Presidents that represent their sports team hardly ever put a lot of stock into this, as their job is to put together a team that gives them the best chance of winning games. Not who's loved the most. Is it something we can acknowledge and appreciate? Sure. But it's not the be-all-end-all.
Having said that, let's get into what Bennett actually did say. What I found interesting is that Bennett didn't need to make this entire list, as each point comes back to one key point - given Lowry's age, he's too expensive. This is pretty much Bennett's "...yeah, but!" to anything that can be used to challenge each of his other points. Consider his first point -
1. The Raptors have internal options that can replace Lowry.
I urge you not to make the hasty conclusion that Bennett is suggesting that the internal options the Raptors (currently) have - Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet - are capable of playing like Lowry; he's not. In fact, he flat out states that they aren't as "spectacular" as Lowry from the get-go. What he is arguing are that this trio is a suitable replacement for Lowry, as a whole. Basically, he's suggesting that these three players combined can produce almost as well as Lowry can. Thing is, it's sort of hard to compare one player (Lowry) to those three when only one of them can play at a time. Lowry is consistently productive when he's on the floor, not to mention one of the most reliable to close out games next to DeRozan. Suggesting that Joseph, Wright, and VanVleet as a group can string together that kind of production during the course of 48 minutes is overambitious. Joseph has proven to be nothing more than a replacement level point guard. In other words, he wouldn't be the first option for starting point guard on a fully healthy team that's really contending in the playoffs. It's fair to say that Joseph has probably reached his peak and is what we have seen. You could say the same for VanVleet, as he's more than likely not going to bloom into a star player that a team can build around. Wright, on the other hand, is interesting because he has a boatload of potential and is just beginning to blossom. However, practically going all in on Wright and hoping that in the future he can produce like Lowry makes me a bit uncomfortable. I'm not saying that he won't or can't become that kind of player, but dealing with an unknown like that is too risky. Personally, I'd much rather re-sign Lowry to a max deal spanning over 5 years than keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Wright meets high expectations. It's sort of "the devil you know" kind of thing. When laid out like this, Lowry is the better option, all things being equal. However, what Bennett wants to say here is all things are not equal, and that those three are younger and cheaper than Lowry. You'll notice that it'll always come back to this.
2. His second point is what I consider his weakest and is pretty much irrelevant. Bennett suggests that Raptors fans should look at the recent players that the fans wanted to be re-signed, like Biyombo (his example, not mine). Aren't we glad we didn't re-sign him for the crazy amount of $72MM like the Magic did? Well, yeah... I am glad that we didn't re-sign Biyombo for that much, but this has nothing to do with Lowry. It's simply a false equivalency. Biyombo doesn't provide the same type of impact like Lowry does, which is why Lowry is more of a priority. I take nothing away from Biyombo's contributions in the playoffs last year. But, was Bismack a 3-time All-Star? No. Was he the anchor of this team? No. The comparison of the circumstances regarding the decision to re-sign or not re-sign Biyombo to Lowry is a bad one as it completely ignores the variables that make them two completely different issues. Bennett attempts to offer further evidence of an equivalency for this by suggesting that the Raptors have been better off giving minutes to Nogueira and developing Poeltl than re-signing Biyombo and, therefore, ought to have the same outlook with Lowry. The problem is, this completely ignores the addition of Ibaka and the rim protection he's provided as a replacement for Biz, as well as how Nogueira really isn't seeing these minutes as a result. The circumstances are simply not analogous and ought to be treated as such. Yet, again, what Bennett wants to say here is that Lowry is different than Biyombo (although he inadvertently regards them as the same....?) because he's older and more expensive.
3. Bennett's third point is that a team does not need an All-Star [point]guard to win.
This one is a bit tougher to argue, because for the most part it's true. Last year, although an all-around great player, Kyrie Irving was not an NBA All-Star. However, in 2015 Stephen Curry was, and in 2014 Tony Parker was as well. Giving his due, Bennett is correct, as the next point guard that was an All-Star and also won an NBA Championship was... Tony Parker in 2007. It's a fair point to make, but I think at this point he's arguing over semantics. Although a team doesn't need an All-Star point guard to win, they must have a guard that is both capable of moving the ball around to open up the floor and, by today's NBA standards, hitting threes on a consistent basis. Kyle Lowry provides this and more for the Raptors. Moreover, even though Irving wasn't an All-Star last season, he certainly played like one in the playoffs and, if he was a free agent coming into this season, he'd be paid the max; regardless of his absence at the All-Star Game. Further, Bennett's example that he laid out was of the 2004 Dallas Mavericks, as they let Steve Nash walk and explore free agency, as they had complete trust in Dirk Nowitzki as their primary scorer. Bennett suggests that, like how Nowitzki was the guy who got the ball when it mattered, the Raptors have that in DeRozan. Moreover, the Mavericks would end up winning an NBA Championship without Nash, so it all worked out, right? Yeah sure, but this isn't analogous. First of all, what Bennett failed to mention is that it took Dallas 7 years to win that NBA title without Nash. If we're trying to draw parallels here, are we sure that DeRozan can both be this same player he is now towards the end of his contract and do it 7 years from now (assuming he's still even on the team)? Second of all, Nowitzki was close to Lowry's age when he won an NBA title. How old you ask? Nowitzki was 32. Lowry is freshly 31. Let me ask you - if the Mavericks were able to offer a 31 year-old Dirk a max contract worth as much as what the Raptors need to give Lowry to keep him, don't you think that they would? Isn't that a no brainer?
I'll let that simmer.
4. Bennett's fourth point is that Lowry A) isn't getting any younger and B) keeps getting hurt. Let's put aside B for a second. Had Bennett just wrote an entire article simply based on how Lowry is 31 and shouldn't be offered a max deal, he wouldn't need all of this other contestable stuff. It's hard to ignore how much the game of basketball wears a player down; specifically one that plays as many minutes as Lowry has. It's true that Lowry is getting up there in age (in terms of a basketball sense. 31 isn't old, I should know), but let's not forget that it took quite a while for him to find his stride and play to the level that he is. Lowry is a late bloomer, for sure, and you could argue that he's a "young" 31, in terms of where he is in his career. Thus, I'm confident giving him a max 5-year deal that will likely finish out his career. However, what I'm not confident in - and what I think Bennett and I can agree on - is that Lowry's age will end up catching up with him and he probably will play fewer and fewer games as each season passes. I think this can be expected, but I also think that when offering someone a max contract at 31, you are doing so knowing that you're going to be paying for about 3 years of solid production, while maybe eating the last two. If it means keeping this unit together and keeping the chemistry as it is, isn't it worth it?
In regards to this "keeps getting hurt" part, Bennett only sites three examples out of Lowry's injury history and only during his tenure as a Toronto Raptor. He states that Lowry has only played 82 games once throughout the course of his 11 year career, but failed to acknowledge that he wasn't nearly the point guard he is today while playing for Memphis and Houston, so there was no need to play him that much. Moreover, during his Raptors tenure, the amount of respective games he has played is 68, 79, 70, 77, & 56. Further, he only missed substantial time due to injury his first year with Toronto (2012) and this year. Yes, he did have elbow problems last year that prevented him from playing at the level he was capable of during last year's post-season, but to say he "keeps on getting hurt" is a bit of a stretch.
5. His fifth point is the Lowry's playoff numbers are poor. I can't deny this and really have no basis to argue against it. The numbers are pretty bad, so I'm just going to give it to Bennett. If anything - and I admit this may be a stretch - I don't necessarily think that having poor playoff numbers only is a reason not to re-sign an important player that makes up your core. But I'd understand if the Raptors didn't because Lowry can't - or rather, hasn't - produce when it matters. I'll give this one to Donnovan.
6. Bennett's sixth point is the point guard market is oversaturated, leaving the Raptors with plenty of options should things not work out with Lowry. Again, while this is true, do I really need to remind you all of how hard it is to sign stud players to a Toronto team? Quite often we hear how players don't want to play for Toronto because they have to deal with customs, or the currency, or moving their families, or it's too cold, etc. While I'm sure there will end up being some point guard that is willing to play for the Raptors, it's hard to imagine one that plays at the level of Lowry (but younger, right Donnovan?) would be willing to come to Toronto. I think this one is a layup (hahaha, silly basketball pun, hahahaha). Thus, while Bennett is right about the market, I think he's a bit overambitious of the Raptors' ability to acquire a point guard that will still allow them to compete.
7. His seventh point is that the Raptors need salary cap space.
Bennett's main point of contention here is that the Raptors ought to prioritize re-signing Ibaka, as he presents more of a rare skill set that the Raptors have been lacking since Bosh. While I can agree with this, who's to say that they can't do both? Bennett assumes this will be a "one-or-the-other" type of situation. This is where he goes wrong, but I can understand why. The Raptors have yet to go into the luxury tax, so if history is the best indicator of the future, there's no reason to believe that they will. However, I think the Raptors front office understands the circumstances of keeping this core group together. The reason they haven't spent this much before is because they've never had anything that was worth spending this much for. Now they do. Knowing this isn't something I can prove or have any evidence for, my gut tells me that the Raptors would be willing to move forward with paying both Lowry and Ibaka. Call it a hunch.
8. His eighth point is the other half of the basis of his argument that couples with the age problem - there are cheaper options available. Again, while this is true, are they cheaper and capable of playing as well as Lowry? Or are they just cheaper? The latter option is much more likely to be the case, and I'm not sure how acquiring one of these cheaper options makes the Raptors any better off, in terms of contending for the playoffs. Bennett argues that there are three stud guards entering the upcoming draft, but will certainly be taken within the first 10 picks of the draft (and that's being generous!). While yes, these rookies will only cost the Raptors $3-5MM, Bennett assumes the Raptors will be able to acquire a pick high enough to land one of them. This, obviously, would involve a trade. Which leads me to...
9. Bennett's final point is that there could be a willing trade partner. He focuses mostly on the 76ers, as they've been rumored to want to aggressively pursue the Philadelphia native this off-season. My question is, why would Lowry agree to a sign-and-trade when he could just sign with the 76ers after opting out? If he knows the Sixers want him that bad (which, do we know this?), why wouldn't he just explore his options with them on his own? Sure, you could say that he'd do it to help out the Raptors - an organization that has been good to him and one that he has spent a lot of his time developing into the player he has become. But this is business. In the world of business, favors are rare and loyalty is even rarer. Bennett assumes that Lowry would be 100% willing to participate in a sign-and-trade and do the Raptors a favor. I am not. Moreover, we're also assuming that the Sixers would want to trade away a top 5 pick (I'm assuming it will be, granted) for Lowry. Why would we assume this? Based on a rumor? Isn't it Bennett who keeps pounding into us how Lowry's old and approaching the decline? If he "knows" this, surely Philadelphia does, too. Further, the Sixers would end up giving up more than the Raptors would if they simply just signed him! The Sixers would not only be taking on that contract, but they'd also be giving up a draft pick for potentially one of these "stud" guards. Why wouldn't they just sign the stud guard? I don't see a scenario where there would be a sign-and-trade.
Bennett's main point is simple - Lowry is too old for that much money. I don't agree. Bennett assumes that if the Raptors go forward with a Lowry deal, it will tie their hands in terms of spending ability on free agents in the future, but why worry about that now? It's hard to deal with unknowns, but all signs point to the salary cap continuing to rise. Right now, Lowry is the single best and realistic option for the Raptors moving forward, so signing him is almost imperative. If they want to continue to progress with what they've been able to build, the Raptors would need to bring back the co-anchor to this team next to DeRozan.
Further, holding on the Lowry provides the Raptors with much needed insurance. A big reason why the Raptors are winning games without Lowry is because DeRozan has taken over and played at an extremely high level. Flat out, this is his team. However, imagine what would happen if both DeRozan and Lowry were absent since the All-Star break. Where do you think the Raptors would be? We've seen who was heavily relied on when DeRozan missed time earlier this season - Lowry. Should the Raptors move on from Lowry, they'd be taking a huge gamble and would put an incredible amount of pressure on DeRozan as their main scorer. Should anything happen to DeRozan, who would be that scorer? Who would be the play maker? Who would the Raptors rely on to close out games? It would put them in a massive hole and having this tandem of Lowry and DeRozan is crucial for their success.
Don't be silly. Re-sign Kyle.