Kyle Lowry, Raptors agree to contract, refuse to 'blow it up'

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Kyle Lowry, the top free agent point guard remaining on the market, is staying put. The three-time All-Star announced his return to the Toronto Raptors in a first-person piece on the Players’ Tribune Sunday afternoon.

Per The Vertical’s Shams Charania and multiple other reports, the deal with the Raptors is for three years and $100 million, an uptick from the three-year, $87 million number that had been rumored on Saturday night. USA Today‘s Sam Amick reported that the contract also contains incentives.

“When I had to make my free-agency decision, there was a lot going through my head, a lot of roads my mind was traveling down,” Lowry wrote in the Players’ Tribune article titled “Home.” “Family, first and foremost, and what’s going to make them happy, and give them the best life. Basketball, of course, and where I’d like to play for these next several years. And then there was also the gut-check aspect — just what I was feeling in my heart.

“But for me, at the end of the day, this was an easy decision. And all of those roads … they all led me back to the same place: home.

“They all led me back to Toronto.”

It’s unclear how much interest there really was outside of Toronto. At various points over the past year, Lowry had been considered, at least by some fans and media members, a candidate for a max contract. He was eligible for a five-year max deal in Toronto, and that seemed at least a remote possibility. But the demand for point guards in general never really materialized, and potential suitors were likely scared off by giving Lowry, 31, a deal that would have stretched all the way to his age 35 or 36 season.

That Lowry was unable to secure even a fourth year, however, is nonetheless somewhat of a surprise. He has made three consecutive All-Star teams, and played the best basketball of his career in his age 30 and 31 seasons. He has coexisted with another ball-dominant guard in DeMar DeRozan, and his multi-faceted offensive game seems adaptable to most systems and personnel.

But with the Raptors seemingly intent on keeping their core together, the fit makes sense all around. Lowry joins Serge Ibaka back in Toronto. Ibaka agreed to a three-year, $65 million deal with the Raptors earlier on Sunday.

The agreements with Lowry and Ibaka will push Toronto’s total salary bill over $130 million, and will put the franchise in the luxury tax for the first time in over a decade. It also gives the Raptors over $120 million in guaranteed contracts for the 2018-19 season. Those numbers could rise if the team decides to re-sign unrestricted free agent forward Patrick Patterson as well.

The question of whether it was time for the Raptors to rebuild has hung over general manager Masai Ujiri ever since his team was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the 2017 playoffs. In fact, that question has been lingering for the better part of this decade. But the decision is clear: Rather than rebuild, Toronto has decided to reload yet again and have at least one more go at the Eastern Conference with the current core.

“When I got here, five years ago, there was a lot of rebuilding talk,” Lowry wrote in the Players’ Tribune. “A lot of, Man, this roster, I don’t know … the Raptors gotta blow it up. These experts, I think they wanted us to trade this, waive that, tank this, draft that. That was most of the talk surrounding our franchise.”

“So I kind of see this summer, then, as … it’s almost like coming full circle,” Lowry continued later. “We ended our season this past year with some disappointment. And that’s a couple of years, now, where — as exciting as it’s been around here — I don’t think we’ve reached our true potential. And you’d hear the whispers, you know, those same experts that were telling us to blow this up in 2013, there they are again with that same talk in 2017.

“But the difference between then and now, and what I’m thankful for, is that this time the ball was much more in my court. I was a free agent. Which meant that it was up to me to decide whether this thing we have — is it worth sticking around for, and running it back again, and seeing if we can take that next step?

“And like I said — to me, that was an easy decision.

“The answer is yes.”

The Raptors will again be expected to finish among the top four teams in the East. It remains to be seen if Ujiri and the front office have ambitions beyond that, and if more moves may still be in the offing.