Numerous questions and decisions have been looming for Toronto Raptors first-year general manager Masai Ujiri upon his arrival this past summer. Ujiri inherited a roster constructed by former GM Brian Colangelo who most notably will be forever remembered by Raptor fans as being the guy who drafted Andrea Bargnani with the first overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.
Colangelo deserves all criticism for the Bargnani selection; both in retrospect and even at the juncture of the decision. However, in the summer of 2012 Colangelo made a slick move by trading for point guard Kyle Lowry in exchange for Gary Forbes and a future first-round pick, which eventually became Steven Adams of the Thunder.
At the time, the trade was deemed as an instilment of confidence in the roster Colangelo was in the process of constructing. It was a message that attempted to identify the Raptors as contenders. From that point, continued push towards contention (among other transactions) resulted in Colangelo rightfully signing guard DeMar DeRozan to an extension, and the woefully disappointing trade for forward Rudy Gay.
The Rudy Gay trade was the make-or-break decision for Colangelo as Raptors GM, and as we know now – it broke him. Outsider perspectives also thought that for Ujiri, coming into the 2013 that his only option was to blow up the roster and calculate the 2013-2014 season as sunk (read: tanking). But, Ujiri’s brief yet methodical track record in an NBA front office in Denver should have suggested otherwise.
Preceding his current position in Toronto, Ujiri was the man behind the Carmelo Anthony trade to the Knicks while with the Nuggets. A move obviously displaying Ujiri’s intestinal fortitude, if not at the very least prove his brazen ability to act. But looking past the Melo trade, Ujiri’s somehow been able to continually pull-off trades in which he has unloaded expensive, if not undesirable contracts.
There was the Nené trade in 2012 (who had just signed a 5yr/$67 mil deal that year) while still in Denver, but more recently with the Raptors: Ujiri has corrected Colangelo’s two biggest downfalls in less than a year. First he dumped the two years and $23 million Bargnani is owed yet to the Knicks, then by shipping Rudy Gay and his $17 million dollar salary, with a player option of $19 million next season off to Sacramento.
Neither of those trades were looked at as an improvement of the on court product for the Raptors. Ujiri absolved the financial burden he encountered, and conventional wisdom led many to believe the Raptors would then unabashedly spiral into Tankapalooza. With the possibility of Andrew Wiggins being in the upcoming 2014 draft, it was the local Toronto kid who was supposed to be the long-awaited savior of the franchise.
Along the way, and somewhere higher up on the laundry list of decisions Ujiri also had to make this season was what to do with Kyle Lowry. As I’ve wrote previous, Lowry’s played like an All-Star on an expiring contract, which is a lethal combination for a number of reasons.
For starters, the team is 26-23, good for third best in the East. They lead the Atlantic Division (which is kind of meaningless, but they’ve only won it once, back in 2007) by 3.5 games over Brooklyn. Smart money would say they should make the playoffs, something they haven’t done since 08. It’s tough to be seller and trade Lowry while in healthy playoff position.
Second, Lowry is arguably the biggest reason for that success. Basically all his numbers and percentages are up from a year ago, his first with the Raps. Ujiri’s patience in waiting to see what Lowry could do has paid dividends for the performance on the floor, something I personally back and support 100%. I’ll probably say this many times over, and will eventually explain further, but I’m a big proponent of not tanking.
But while I’m in favor of attempts to be competitive versus blatant atrocity, the one area that’s very circumstantial in that debate is the financial aspect. With Lowry, this is where I’m most torn. Ujiri played this season out beautifully so far, but part of his duty is to better the interest of the team going forward.
Just off pure speculation, I’d guess Lowry will want somewhere in the ballpark of $10 mil a year, on a three or four year deal. I could realistically see him getting anywhere between $8 and $14 a year, which may seem a little high, but I could feasibly see the Lakers or even a team like Dallas putting a higher priced offer out to Lowry as he will be the best available unrestricted PG on the market.
With the trade deadline two weeks from today, Lowry’s value may never be higher, but finding a potential suitor other than the Knicks (who have nothing enticing to offer) may be unlikely. For the sake of moves in the imminent future, I personally don’t want Ujiri to trade Lowry, but I do trust Ujiri’s vision regardless.
I’m aware of how weak the East is, and even if Toronto does make the playoffs how indicative will it be of the team playing playoff caliber basketball, or rather the conference being severely lackluster? Still, I’d like to play out the rest of the season with Lowry; see if this group can maybe even manage a series win in the first round of the playoffs. This summer though? I know this much: Lowry will get paid. I just don’t know if it will be by Toronto, and that’s a discussion for another day.