Let's Talk About Kyle

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)

As the dust settles from the third part of the trilogy known as the Cavaliers/Warriors NBA Finals, the basketball community has now turned its attention to the rumor-mill (or rumour-mill for my friends up North). Fans are anxiously waiting to see if their favorite teams will push their chips in to make moves that will, in turn, transform the franchise into contenders or one that embraces the rebuild. With so much information pouring out by the minute, it’s hard to keep track of what is accurate or what is just mere speculation. One minute, Jimmy Butler is enticed by the idea of joining LeBron James in Cleveland. The next, Butler emphasizes how much he loves the city of Chicago and makes it clear he has no desire to play for the Cavaliers. With a high volume of uncertainty experienced by fans, compounded by the back and forth and often times contradictory information coming at them, it becomes increasingly harder to evaluate. Thus, it ultimately leaves us in either a state of panic, excitement, disappointment, or often times all of the above. What should we invest our emotional stock in?

Although I’d like to say that all is gravy when it comes to the Toronto Raptors, fans of the #WeTheNorth franchise are experiencing the aforementioned emotional rollercoaster as each day passes. Although the season didn’t quite end as we would have liked it to, we were hopeful that Raptors President, Masai Ujiri, could work his magic with ownership - MLSE - and convince them to give him the financial resources to hold on to their key assets, thereby maintaining their contender status. Of the three core group of players, only one is guaranteed to return to lead the Raptors, and that is DeMar DeRozan (barring any trades from out of nowhere like a Randy Orton RKO). The remaining two - Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka - have chosen to explore free agency, leaving their future in Toronto up in the air. Now, it should be noted that despite what you read by any writer (reputable or not), it would be wise to approach it with skepticism, as nothing is set and stone and things change by the day. I mean no disrespect to any writer that covers the Raptors; I respect them all. However, what it all boils down to is whether or not you’re willing to take the word of someone who heard something from somewhere or the player himself. Admittedly, of the aforementioned two players, I have fallen into the trap of comfort by assuming Ibaka is coming back, based on what little reports that have been floated out on the inter-webs .

Earlier in May, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported that a deal between the Raptors and Ibaka was “pretty much done,” and was in the neighborhood of $20MM a year. Since then, a recent article by Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun suggests that the Raptors are confident in their ability to bring Ibaka back. With nothing out there to dispute either of these claims, Raptors fans have put their faith in the reports and assume Ibaka will return. After all, he hasn’t been attached to any other rumor regarding an interest in joining another team, so we blindly put our eggs in this basket and anticipate a reunion. Seems easy enough, right? No contrary news is good news and, once teams are legitimately able to sign players to a deal, we expect to hop on to HoopsRumors.com and see the “Ibaka Signs with Toronto” headline. Simple. But what about the third member of the trio that makes up the core of the Raptors? Well… apparently not so simple.

When it comes to Kyle Lowry - a player that has helped propel the Raptors into a consistent and legitimate playoff contender in the Eastern Conference - it’s hard to envision him signing elsewhere. It’s during this time in the NBA off-season that we find ourselves going through that emotional rollercoaster, being bombarded with rumors that contradicts our expectations. Toronto fans experienced this first hand this week. 

There were times during the regular season that we noticed a bit of pushback from Lowry; sometimes even subtly expressing displeasure with the team's coaching and direction. However, with the ability to sign him to the most years and most dollars, fans figure that although things may have been bit a rocky, Lowry would take the money and remain a Raptor. After all, money talks and… well, yeah… that other stuff walks. Once the Raptors put the contract that was around the $200MM range in front of him, Lowry would come to his senses, realize how much he loves Toronto and how good the city has been to him, the Raptors would be able to work out their issues, and continue build a contending team. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, not so fast.

Earlier this week, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star wrote an article claiming that word had been going around to other teams that Lowry had “zero interest” in signing a contract with the Raptors, even if were to be for the maximum amount of years and dollars that only they could offer. Lowry was determined to play for a team that gave him a better chance of winning a ring. If not, he desired to play for his hometown team - the 76ers. Nothing the Raptors could do could wash away the bitter taste left in Lowry's mouth from being swept by the Cavaliers, and a change of scenery was reportedly desired. 

It should be noted that no direct quotes from Lowry supported this claim by Arthur. In fact, the quotes made by Lowry that Arthur did mention were ones that spoke highly of the city of Toronto. Specifically, he referenced a recent radio appearance by Lowry on Toronto’s TSN 1050 in which Lowry stated that “everything about Toronto has been positive or better than other NBA cities.” Further, Arthur concludes his article with a glimmer of hope, making fans of the Raptors aware that “Things can change,” as these types of things are as fluid as ever during this time in free agency. In other words, nothing is set in stone and we should be hard pressed to put all our eggs in the basket that stem from mere rumors. This includes the most recent rumor of the Houston Rockets being interested in putting together a super (duper!) team consisting of Lowry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Paul Millsap to join James Harden in the battle against the Warriors for the West. If you ask me, what I recommend is examining the facts, as well as the statements made by the source/player himself. Which leads me to this.

I mean, that’s pretty straight-forward, is it not?

With this type of pushback from the source itself, compounded by the moves made by his hometown team of Philadelphia by trading up to acquire the number one pick in the draft, it certainly seems like Lowry is keeping his options open and has not shut the door on a return to Toronto. Perhaps Lowry was legitimately interested in playing for his hometown of Philadelphia, but as Arthur notes - things change. It's no secret that with the aforementioned move by the 76ers, Lowry's market got a little smaller, and he'd be wise to keep all his options on the table.

Moreover, with the recent comments made by Masai Ujiri who flat-out said that Kyle “wants to come back,” it may be best to not invest in every article that speculates on a destination for the All-Star point guard. Toronto fans, more than any other fans, should be weary of such rumors, as they surrounded DeRozan last year in terms of a desire to join his hometown team he idolized growing up - the Lakers. Recall that Stephen A. Smith went so far as saying, without hesitation, that DeRozan had “made it very, very clear that he wants to be in L.A….” Fans got caught up in the hype and started to envision a life without DeRozan, because… well, because Stephen A. Smith said so! It must be true, right? He said "very" twice

Yeah, about that. DeRozan only met with one team: Toronto. 

Further, we should keep in mind that Lowry is an emotional player. Often times this works to his advantage, but sometimes it backfires. I don't discount the possibility that Lowry did state that he had zero interest in returning to Toronto at the wake of being swept by the Cavaliers. He is human, after all, and the aspect of Lowry making comments about the Raptors out of anger and frustration after an embarrassing effort against Cleveland is something I think we can forgive. However, this doesn't mean that Lowry has necessarily maintained this attitude towards a return, as cooler heads tend to prevail. Recall, Dwane Casey, DeRozan, and Norman Powell met with Lowry earlier this month in order to be exposed to the atmosphere of an NBA Finals. If Lowry legitimately had zero interest in a return to Toronto, it seems rather odd that he'd meet with them at all. Yet, it also doesn't mean he's a lock to return, either.

The point is, Lowry is going to evaluate all the circumstances that surround any team that offers him a deal. This isn't to say that he’s destined to sign a new deal with Toronto, but I’d like to believe that of all the teams that are reported to have an interest in signing him, the Raptors have the most leverage. This doesn't necessitate a reunion - it merely means the Raptors have an advantage that no other team has. The aspect of a professional athlete gravitating towards the most money and longest term shouldn’t surprise anyone. Given Lowry’s tweet, coupled with the comments made by Ujiri, Raptors fans should look ahead with cautious optimism. Like the fear we had that surrounded DeRozan's free agency, until a deal is done all reports of interest or disinterest regarding Lowry and him signing with another team should be taken with a grain of salt. One must hope that Ujiri is able to work his wizardry and provide enough evidence that the game planning, culture, and scheming within the organization will not be the same episode that we've watched on repeat for the past four years. 

I don't know about you, but I'm confident that he'll be able to.

Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)