What's the Best Fit for Kyle Lowry Next Season?
So far, we know that Kyle Lowry will be opting out of his current contract to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. This should come as a surprise to no one given the current salary cap projections -- Lowry will warrant much more than the $12 million he was originally due in 2017-18.
If Tuesday's press conference was any indication, we can also assume general manager Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors will be looking to take things in a different direction going forward, citing a culture change among other rumor-inducing comments.
One thing Ujiri was straightforward about was the team's willingness to re-sign their veteran point guard, but does Lowry want to stay in Toronto?
There are now legitimate rumors of Lowry switching to the Western Conference, where he would no longer have to deal with the inevitable matchup with LeBron James and company. More recently, rumblings have surfaced regarding a possible return to his hometown to play for the Philadelphia 76ers. Both are intriguing, but where would he fit best?
Before we explore the possibilities, let's first look at what things Lowry has to consider before leaving Toronto.
For Lowry, staying on with the Raptors would likely mean big money. Big money means he'd be eligible for a five-year, $200 million max deal as opposed to a four-year, $140 million deal if he goes elsewhere. And that's only if he's offered the max.
On one hand, Ujiri has ownership's backing to be a luxury tax team. So signing Lowry is definitely possible.
On the other hand, Lowry's fit in Toronto is precisely what it's been -- good for the regular season but not good enough to take down LeBron and the Cavs in the playoffs. If he wants to play it safe and be part of a very good team, he could stay, but all the rumors point to him going elsewhere as next season gets underway.
Head Out West?
We can say it all we want, but how likely is Lowry to move out West? Does he fit anywhere?
By talent alone, where does Lowry's 2016-17 season rank among Western Conference point guards? Let's check it out by using nERD -- our own player ranking that considers a player's overall contributions, based on efficiency.
For certain, there are six teams that don't need a guy like Lowry because they either already have a point guard that's better or one equivalent to his caliber. Barring something big happening (Stephen Curry and/or Chris Paul leaving their current teams), that automatically narrows the possibilities to just nine teams. That's also not counting any team that will add a point through a guard-heavy draft.
If we're only concerning ourselves with places where there's a spot available, we can safely eliminate two more teams, in Phoenix and Minnesota -- two squds with at least two options at point guard. So that leaves us with seven possible landing spots.
Assuming Lowry wants to go to a contender, we have to eliminate the rebuilding Sacramento Kings before going any further. We have to do the same with the young Los Angeles Lakers, but if they make the proper moves this summer, that could change.
For now, we have five teams: the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets. In terms of competitiveness, we know the Jazz and Spurs are playoff teams. The Pelicans and Nuggets are also likely to be postseason factors next year while the Mavericks could go either way.
Based on the teams' current situations and one-year outlook, does the money make sense for them? (All numbers and calculations courtesy of The Vertical.)
|Team||Max. Proj. Cap Room in 2017-18||Min. Proj. Cap Room in 2017-18|
|San Antonio Spurs||$9,850,550||-$23,649,894|
|New Orleans Pelicans||$14,648,740||-$18,797,565|
In accounting for a $103 million cap and each team's guaranteed salaries, the Mavericks would have the most room to sign a guy like Lowry. The Nuggets and Jazz aren't far behind, with more than $20 million to play with.
However, if we go by projected cap space -- taking into account non-guaranteed deals and free-agent holds -- the only team with positive space (without dipping into the luxury tax space) is Denver. The $15-plus million wouldn't be enough alone, but Lowry would certainly bring a veteran presence to a young team absent a point guard with the ability to play with the other elite talents out West.
Unless things take a severe turn in San Antonio, they won't have the money to sign Lowry. Plus, they could be content with the up-and-coming Dejounte Murray.
In the Big Easy, Jrue Holiday could be out, but the space doesn't look like it would be there, pending any offseason salary dumps.
If things change in Utah and Dallas, though, they would make a lot of sense. If George Hill leaves Utah, they'll be in need of an established floor general. As for Dallas, they could believe that their younger options (Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell) aren't enough to support Dirk Nowitzki's quest for a second title.
If a spot opens up in Utah, Lowry makes the most sense given that he's a slower point guard and the Jazz play at such a slow pace. But, if Hill returns, Dallas makes the most sense, all things considered. If the chips fall as expected, Mark Cuban should have enough money to add a guy like Lowry.
Go Back Home?
Coming from the reliable Keith Pompey, the Sixers rumors probably have more than a little substance to them. After all, Lowry was born in Philly and played college hoops at Villanova. At 31 years old, he might be ready to get back to his roots and take on a leadership role with a young and rising 76ers squad.
There is the conflicting idea of Ben Simmons playing the point, but we've seen Lowry play off-the-ball from time to time. He wouldn't have a problem spotting up for shots while sharing the play-making load on the offensive end. Or would he?
According to NBA.com, in 59 regular season games, he averaged just 3.4 catch-and-shoot opportunities per game and converted just 41.2% of those attempts while hitting 1.3 of 3.2 from three-point land. That's not all terrible, but when you consider the perimeter shooting concerns revolving around Simmons, you need someone more effective catching off passes from he and Joel Embiid.
If Lowry can improve in that area this offseason, it would be an otherwise perfect fit. Not only would Lowry increase the average age of the team, but he could be justly compensated alongside so many unproven players.
With a projection of $27.3 million in cap space and just roughly under $36.5 million in guaranteed salaries next season, Philadelphia has the financial flexibility to bring on Lowry, not to mention one or two other free agents.
If we're talking cents, Philadelphia is the best bet for fulfilling Lowry's hefty contract wishes, but are they good enough to compete in the East? At 31, will Lowry's time run out while working with a rebuilding franchise?
If competition is the biggest factor, the Jazz -- so long as Hill leaves Utah -- seem to be a good match, especially if Lowry's looking to go out West. The question is whether Hill leaves and Gordon Hayward stays. If Hayward goes, they might not be good enough to challenge the Warriors, Spurs and other top contenders within the conference.
Denver and Dallas are mixed bags. Both could be playoff contenders next season, but either one or both could be bound for the lottery once again depending on talent development and offseason moves.
In summary, there isn't one perfect fit for Lowry. As time goes on, one might show itself. But, for now, it looks like he will have to sacrifice one thing or another no matter which team he chooses.