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Lewenberg: Free agent-to-be Lowry destined for return

Josh Lewenberg, TSN 1050
5/5/2014 6:43:44 PM
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TORONTO - As Kyle Lowry walked off the podium, on a day in which he cleaned out his locker following a heartbreaking end to his career season, he looked back at the throng of media that had just finished grilling him on his future.

"Goodbye, everybody," he shouted.

What he really meant was, 'see you later.'

With the wounds of a Game 7 loss beginning to heal and the dust settling on the season that was, the attention immediately shifted to Lowry, an impending free agent, and whether or not he'll be back in a Raptors uniform next fall.

Although the star point guard is prohibited from putting pen to paper until the NBA's moratorium period concludes after the first week of July, there is a resounding belief within Toronto's locker room that he is planning on sticking around.

It was written on the face of his teammate and good friend DeMar DeRozan as the all-star guard deflected question after question regarding Lowry's future with the subtlety of a hand grenade.

Will it be difficult to watch Lowry go through the free agency process?

"No, no, no," he said Monday afternoon, accompanied by a big smirk.

Why not?

"Because," he replied, as reporters began to snicker. "No"

How would you feel if, for whatever reason, he wasn't back?

"I'm not worried about that," DeRozan insisted.

Do you know something we don't?

"I didn't say that. I didn't say he was, I didn't say he wasn't. I just said I'm not worried about it."

The 24-year-old spends the bulk of his summers working out in Las Vegas. If that was his poker face, it's a good thing he rarely strays from the gym.

"Why would he leave?" DeRozan asked in the rhetoric a day earlier. 

A fair question and one Lowry could not find an answer for when pressed shortly after Toronto's one-point loss and first-round elimination to the Brooklyn Nets. 

"Of course I can see myself back," said the Raptors point guard. "We just went to Game 7, first round. Nobody expected us to be there. Of course I can see that."

Coming off a breakout campaign in which he averaged career-highs of 17.9 points and 7.4 assists, the 28-year-old will take his time and weigh his options before making a decision, that much he made clear. 

"At the end of the day, it's still a business and you have to be a businessman for the situation that you're in," he said, "but I am very happy. This has been one of the best seasons I've had, through and through. Best coaches, teammates, [front office]. It's been great. I am happy. Without a doubt, I can say I'm happy."

While money and the terms of his next deal should play a big part in the negotiation process that will take place in roughly two months, it's hard to put a price on happiness. That's something that any other suitor may have difficulty matching.

Finally, in his eighth NBA season, Lowry started to scratch the surface of what many believed had been there all along. Only, it very nearly played out at Toronto's expense.

"We knew if we lost [after the Rudy Gay trade] it was going to get blown up," Lowry wisely pointed out. "That's just the fact that, once we made the trade, if we would have lost a little more, I probably wouldn't be sitting here today, just being honest."

As it turned out, the Raptors were his perfect storm. For the first time, he was entrusted to lead a team without looking over his shoulder or pretending to be something he's not. He came to training camp with a rejuvenated approach, in the best shape of his playing career. 

"The most important difference I've seen in Kyle is his ability to lose weight," said Patrick Patterson - a teammate of Lowry's in Houston - with a straight face, if you can believe it. "When he was in Houston, he was on the heavy side."

He and DeRozan formed the league's second-highest scoring backcourt, only behind the Golden State Warriors' "Splash Brothers" of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. "Why wouldn't you want to be on a team with a guy like that?" he said of DeRozan. Most of all, he's grown up. 

A year ago he stood in the Raptors' practice gym, head down, embarrassed after a lost season and promised to be back, better than ever.

"[I'm] very disappointed for myself because I know I'm a much better player than what I've shown this year," he had said on Apr. 15, 2013.

This version of Lowry, sitting at the front end of the ACC media centre, couldn't have been more dissimilar. He's channeled the very things that used to work to his detriment - his hardheaded, stubborn nature - to become an indispensable player. As a result, he has a greater understanding and appreciation for what's important to him at this stage of his career. First and foremost, his priority is to win. 

"I want to be happy," Lowry repeated, identifying overall team situation as the primary factor in making his decision. "I want to win, but it's something that me and my agent, we have yet to talk about. But I know I want to win, and that's important to me."

How does Toronto stack up?

"I love this place," he exclaimed. "I love the situation. It's simple as that."

No, Lowry's not going anywhere. The Raptors give Lowry his best opportunity to win and Lowry does the same for the Raptors. They need each other.

"Kyle's like my biggest brother," said sophomore Terrence Ross. "I look up to him, ask for advice on a lot of different things, on and off the court. He's hands down the best point guard I've ever played with. He's taught me a lot. He motivates everybody. I really hope he comes back. I even talk to him all of the time, saying 'You got to come back, you're basically the heart of the team, we need you to come back'."

Lowry's response to Ross' frequent sales pitches; "He always played it off like we've got to worry about something else right now."

Now, Lowry tops the team's offseason agenda. He's their highest priority and it won't take long after the clock strikes 12:01 AM on July 1 for Masai Ujiri and agent Andy Miller to sit down and finalize an agreement to keep the star point guard in Toronto long term.

"We wouldn't have been here if it wasn't for Kyle," DeRozan said.

"Kyle is an elite player," added Patterson, "and as far as him staying here, I'm sure a lot of people in Toronto would love that. It all depends on him. But definitely if Toronto wants to get better in the future, have someone to build around and be the key, the glue for the basketball team, what better person to start with than Kyle?"

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