It’s so easy to forget he should have been a Knick. If not for James Dolan’s veto, Jurassic Park may have never been born. The Toronto Raptors were thisclose to trading Kyle Lowry to New York in 2014, with their new GM Masai Ujiri having carte blanche to gut what had been another disappointing roster. But Dolan, having been barbequed for giving a first-rounder to the Raptors for Andrea Bargnani a year earlier, was reluctant to include the first that Toronto wanted to solidify New York’s proposed package for Lowry. The deal died. And by that stroke of fortune, the Raptors have enjoyed their best stretch of basketball in franchise history ever since.
Now 30, Lowry has turned from a moody, often overweight non-leader into one of the league’s best points, teaming with DeMar DeRozan to form one of the league’s top backcourts -- one that led the Raptors to the franchise’s best record ever last season. Toronto got to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time, losing in six games to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lowry, who made his second All-Star team last season, had the best season of his 10-year career, posting career highs in scoring (21.2 points per game) and 3-point percentage (.388).
He and DeRozan then went to Rio together as part of the gold medal-winning U.S. Men’s Olympic Team last August. Lowry will be in high demand next summer as well, but for a different reason and he told The Vertical earlier this month he plans to opt out of the last year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent in 2017. With Russell Westbrook off the market, Lowry could well be the top point guard available in free agency. He said he wants to stay in Toronto, but expects the same treatment the team gave DeRozan last summer, not wasting any time before agreeing to terms with him in the first hours of free agency.
Business is business, but Lowry’s made a name for himself north of the border, and given the Raptors three great seasons in a row. He belongs there. He’s become a leader there. He’s got unfinished business there.
Me: Where’s the gold medal?
Kyle Lowry: It’s in the safe at the house somewhere. It’s in a good place right now.
Me: It didn’t take DeMar long to re-sign, and he kind of made it clear he was coming back, anyway. So what do you think you have this year, minus Biz [Bismack Biyombo]?
KL: I think we have pretty much the same team, minus that elite shot blocker. I think [Jared] Sullinger can not be the shot blocking presence, but he can be a guy that’s going to be a presence -- he’ll read the play earlier, make sure he’s there a half-second earlier. I also think we come back with some experience. We got to a point where we were two games away from making The Finals, and we just happened to lose to the championship team. We gained a lot of experience that series and this past season.
Me: Was it important for you, personally, to play better in the playoffs?
KL: (laughs) I didn’t play too well. I played well enough for my team to get to the Eastern Conference finals, took it to six games. My shooting stats may not have been the best, but I think I played well overall. Rebounding, assists, defense, I led my team to have a chance to get to The Finals. People always made a big deal about my shot not falling; I really didn’t care about that. I did everything else to lead my team to that point, so I was happy.
Me: How do you know when a guy’s got a high basketball IQ? Sully has always been viewed as a smart player who makes up for being stuck to the ground.
KL: You can just feel it. You can see it. The way they read the game, the way they play the game, the way they approach the game. It’s about the playcalling; it’s always about the situational stuff. You just look at it and see, okay, this is what’s going on. To have a high basketball IQ, I think you have to be unselfish, but also selfish at the same time. To be able to say, okay, I know this is going to work, so let’s do it. It might be a play for another guy, and your coach may not agree with you, but you know it’s right in your heart. I’ve played with a couple of guys -- I played with Chuck Hayes, who was very similar (to Sullinger). A little bit smaller. But Sully’s been great. You know what it is? His communication’s been awesome. He’s always loud, he’s always speaking, he’s always making sure that the call is called earlier, making sure we know the plays and he’s understanding what we have going on. He’s picked up all of our offense, literally, that quick.
Me: What do you need from JV [Jonas Valanciunas] this year?
KL: We need a lot. We need a guy that’s going to get 15 and 10 a night, and maybe there’s nights where he gets 30 and 20. I think it’s a possibility where he has one of those monstrous nights, and just keeps his confidence going. We also need him to make that 15-footer. We need him to hit that jump shot. A lot of people clog the paint on myself and DeMar, and he has to find that way to space out and make that jump shot, space out the floor a little bit more for us.
Me: What is the week been like up there, with the Jays getting to the ALCS?
KL: It’s crazy to say that those guys are where they’re supposed to be, and it’s an opportunity for them to get to the World Series, against the same cities (Cleveland). I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened. So I’m rocking my Jays hat. I’m ready for them to go on and keep that city alive and support their team even more.
Me: You were at the last game against the Rangers, right?
KL: Yeah. It was unbelievable. I think the first, I sat down, and the second batter, Edwin (Encarnarcion), lost his bat, and it came over my head. I was almost thinking about leaving. I was almost deciding I was going to go back and sit up there with the guys. But just the fact how 53,000 people were cheering, loud, and how the whole city was behind them, it was crazy. It was an amazing event to be a part of.
Me: And the Leafs have the kid, (Austin) Matthews, who scored four goals in his first game.
KL: Yeah, me and Lombo (PR guy extraordinaire Jim LaBumbard) were talking about that earlier. He’s setting himself up. He can’t score less than one goal (per game) now the rest of the season. But that’s just the pressure and how good he can be. We actually had a dinner, an MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) dinner the night before, and I got to meet him. Hopefully those guys can do well and do something for the city, also.
Me: You are going to be a free agent next year. How do you approach that?
KL: I did my one interview. I’m going to focus on this season, and once that time comes, I’ll really lock in on it. Right now I’m just worried about helping my team win games. I want to get to that point where I’m able to celebrate like the Cavs did last year. I know it’s a big task at hand, but you’ve got to lace ‘em up every night and go play basketball.
Me: So what do you have to do to beat that team two more times?
KL: Stop LeBron. Stop Kyrie.
Me: A little easier said than done.
KL: I think it’s just focus, and being better. Take the experience of what they did to us and learn from it. We couldn’t win a game (in Cleveland) in the playoffs, couldn’t get close. We have to find a way to win a game on the road, especially them having the one seed. But maybe our chance is to get that one seed. That would help, to have home court advantage. But for us even to get to that point, we have to start somewhere, and it starts in Detroit on opening night.
Me: Could a healthy DeMarre [Carroll] make a difference?
KL: Yeah. We only had him for, I obviously don’t know how many games we had him for. But he’s been looking good lately. I think his energy and effort is there. I think his body’s just feeling good. I think he’s going to give us that cutting, that energy, that spot shooting. He’s going to give us consistent defensive presence. We’re going to need that, especially not having a shot blocker and losing Biz. We’re going to need that energy and that effort at the defensive end.
Me: Okay, I’m taking one more run at this. You had to look at Conley’s contract -- no disrespect to Mike.
KL: When he got the contract, I texted him immediately. I said congratulations; you earned it. At the end of the day, I’m happy for everybody. I don’t count no one else’s money. I want everyone to be taken care of and be able to take care of their families and be successful. I’m just excited for the opportunity that the league has grown and we have the opportunity to have the big TV deal for everyone to be able to take care of their families, and earn a living playing basketball and doing the thing that they love. For Mike, it was like, hey, congratulations. You earned it. Now you just need to outgrow that contract.
Me: You guys were out front on linking arms and being together for the Anthem. Is that going to continue, and is there a next step after that?
KL: We talked about it. We said if we’re going to start this, we have to do things in your own community back home. Let’s not just do it. Let’s just keep the conversation going. Linking arms is just showing that we don’t need to antagonize the situation. We want to show unity. In this world, and all the things we have going on, we’re all human beings. At the end of the day, we all should be here together. I was big on, if you’re going to do something, make sure we do it and take it back home. Do it in your cities, wherever you’re from. Try to get something going where you can just continue to keep the conversation going, and make the world better, make the world a better place for our children and for the youth. I have two young children, 5 and 1. And I want them to be able to grow up and live a fully, healthy life and not have to worry about things that’s going on in our world now. I just want them to be just happy and growing up, being a kid.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Finally got to meet Hov. He doesn't know it yet, but I'll be doing business with him one day.— Trevor Booker (@35_Fitz) October 16, 2016
-- Nets forward Trevor Booker (@35_Fitz), Saturday, 10:24 pm, upon making the acquaintance of one Shawn Carter; aka, Jay-Z.
THEY SAID IT
“It’s funny because I’ll tweet something funny about Trump, and then all the Trump people will start killing me. And then I’ll tweet something controversial about Clinton, and then all the Clinton people will start killing me. I don’t side to one people. Like I said, they’re both politicians, they’re both full of (bleep), and they both don’t really give two (bleeps) about the common man.’’
-- Mavs center Andrew Bogut, to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, on his disgust with both major candidates for president. An Australian, Bogut said he would probably flip a coin if he had to pick.
“That’s cute, man. That’s cute. My job is to be able to worry about what’s going on here. We’re going to worry about all of the selfish guys we got over here, apparently.”
-- Russell Westbrook, to local reporters, after being told of Kevin Durant’s comments earlier in the week that he felt grateful being in Golden State “with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form.” Everyone, of course, took that as a shot at Westbrook and the Thunder, even as Durant insisted he wasn’t talking about him, or them.
“It’s funny because Danny is going about it the right way, he’s not panicking. He’s not going to make a deal just to do something. He’s got a lot of assets. Believe me, that’s just the opposite (of him). Danny is one of the most impulsive people I know and I’m just shocked he doesn’t make a trade every week. He’s really a disciplined general manager, which is funny because he’s a very undisciplined person.”
-- Hall of Famer -- and, once again, my Turner colleague -- Kevin McHale, on a conference call with reporters, discussing the patience of his close friend Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ GM.
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