Kyle Lowry, a three-time Eastern Conference All-Star point guard for the Toronto Raptors, has announced that he is opting out of his contract for next season and will test the free agency market this summer. That doesn’t mean he won’t return to the Raptors, who can pay him tens of millions of dollars more than any other team. But for now, Lowry is interested in exploring other opportunities.
Lowry averaged a career-high 22.4 points, 7.0 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game this past season. When a player of that caliber is available in free agency, indicates he will seriously consider changing teams, and has been rumored to be interested in the Los Angeles Lakers in the past, the front office must take notice. It is important to note that point guard is the Lakers biggest weakness.
It has also been reported that Lowry is interested in playing for a Western Conference team. The presumed reason is so he does not have to keep facing LeBron James in the playoffs. But would it be any easier in the West with teams like Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio?
Except for his age (31), Lowry is an ideal fit for the Lakers. He is a fiery competitor who is small of stature but known as a solid leader and tough defender. He could play alongside the 6’5” D’Angelo Russell or the 6’5” Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt. He can run an offense and score. This past season he shot a 46.4 percent from the field overall and 41.2 percent from three-point range, excellent shooting statistics.
The reason the Lakers have to consider him seriously is that Lowry can be signed through free agency instead of a trade. That means the Lakers would not have to give up any young talent to acquire him. If he could be paired with Paul George, for example, it would make for a vastly improved Lakers team that is likely to make the playoffs next season.
Of course, Lowry has his critics. For one thing, he just turned 31 in March which is not ideal for a player starting a new long-term contract. It didn’t stop the Lakers from signing Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to four-year guaranteed contracts last summer, when they were 31 and 30 years old, respectively. However, that move is considered one of the worst in Lakers history and contributed significantly to Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak losing their jobs.
Another negative with Lowry is that he has been injury prone. This past season he missed time to have surgery mid-year to repair an injured wrist. He was limited again in the playoffs with a sprained ankle. Only once in his career has Lowry played in all 82 games (2007-08, his second year in the league). Four times he played fewer than 50 games in a season, although in 2015-16 he played in 77 and in 2013-14 he played in 79.
Even if the Lakers decide they want Lowry, they face an uphill battle trying to convince him to agree. He announced that the main reason he wants to test the free agency market is to better his odds of winning a championship. That seems to be the motivation of all top free agent –- although Lowry may have said it more bluntly than others — which is why acquiring him would be a tall task for the win-challenged Lakers.
This is where Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka enter the picture. It would be their job, if they decide they want Lowry, to convince him that they can and will completely re-shape the roster and have the team competing for a championship in two-three years. It would be a real test for the new front office to see if they can sell Lowry on that vision. It would also be helpful if Lowry knew the Lakers already had a player like Paul George on the roster.
If Chris Paul re-signs with the Los Angeles Clippers as expected, three of the top four seeds in the West do not need point guards: The Golden State Warriors have Stephen Curry, the Houston Rockets have James Harden, and the Clippers will have Paul. Plus, other teams that made Western Conference playoffs this year include the Oklahoma City Thunder with Russell Westbrook, the Memphis Grizzles with the NBA’s highest-paid player in Mike Conley, and the Portland Trail Blazers with Damian Lillard.
The two Western Conference teams who may be in search of a point guard next season are the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs. Utah featured George Hill this past year who played very well when he wasn’t injured. Hill, however, is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he may opt to play elsewhere in the fall.
The favorite to sign Lowry if indeed he wants to play in the Western Conference could be San Antonio. Long-standing point guard Tony Parker has always been great when healthy but he has often been injured in recent years, and he may be on his last legs as an NBA player. He is about to turn 35 this month and his days in the NBA would appear to be numbered. The Spurs should want Lowry, and the feeling might be mutual if he wants to go to a contender.
While there is never any shortage of rumors at this time of year, nearly all turn out to be false. The top free agents are expected to re-sign with their current teams, and Lowry might do the same. But Lowry is one of the few to announce publically that he is going to test the free agency market and whenever a player of his caliber is potentially up for grabs, which is very rare, the Lakers have to consider it seriously.
If Lowry is going to be the Lakers only big move this summer, then it probably is not worth gambling on an expensive 31-year-old player even if he is a point guard which is the team’s greatest need. If, however, they are serious about trading for Paul George or Jimmy Butler and pull it off without totally decimating the roster, then it would make perfect sense for the front office to join the bidding war for Lowry this summer.