TORONTO - It didn't take long for the Raptors to address their top priority of the summer.
Less than 48 hours after the July 1 free agency window opened, the Raptors reached an agreement with their star point guard Kyle Lowry, bringing him back to Toronto for four more years at a reported $48 million, according to several outlets and confirmed by Lowry himself over Twitter.
"Toronto will be my home city," the 28-year-old tweeted Wednesday evening, along with a picture of himself decked out in retro Raptors gear.
The deal has an early termination option in the final year, allowing Lowry to become an unrestricted free agent after the third season if he chooses. Although the contract has been agreed to in principle, it can't be signed or made official until the NBA's moratorium period is lifted on July 10.
Lowry spent the day mulling over Toronto's offer and weighing his options with his family and agent after meeting with Raptors' general manager Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey Tuesday afternoon in his hometown of Philadelphia. The Raptors' point guard was visited by members of the Rockets' front office, also receiving interest from the Heat and Mavericks.
Ultimately, he opted to return to the team he helped lead to a division title, at a significant pay raise from what he was making when he enjoyed a career season in 2013-14.
Earning $6.2 million last year, Lowry registered career-highs of 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds while narrowly missing out on what would have been his first all-star selection during a breakout campaign with the Raptors.
Entering his prime, the eight-year vet will be the eighth highest paid point guard in the league next season after finishing third in Win Shares among players at his position last year. His new contract will be more than twice the size of his previous one, a four-year, $23.5 million deal signed in 2010. Lowry has earned a total of $28.8 million over the first eight years of his career.
Although a deserved raise played a role in his decision to re-sign - the Raptors had the advantage of being able to pay him more than any other team - Lowry became entrenched as a leader with the team both on the court and in the locker room, endearing himself to the city with his hard play.
"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 had said the afternoon after his team was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs. "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."
"I love this place," he continued. "I love the situation. It's simple as that."
For that very reason his return was hardly in doubt, though Raptors' fans are generally conditioned to hope for the best and fear for the worst. The Raptors' front office, coaching staff and even Lowry's teammates remained confident a deal would get done throughout the process but he did have other viable options to consider, given his desire to compete for a championship and his status as this summer's most coveted point guard. Bringing him back, amid the long-time perception that players don't want to be in Toronto, is a major coup for a Raptors' franchise that is determined to change their culture under the leadership of Ujiri and MLSE boss Tim Leiweke.
The Raptors acquired Lowry in a trade from Houston during the summer of 2012 after he fell out of favour with Rockets' coach Kevin McHale. Despite a turbulent first season in Toronto, one that saw him battle injury and feud with Coach Casey, Lowry came to training camp in the best shape of his playing career and took his game to a new level after a pre-season meeting with Ujiri sparked his competitive nature.
With the Raptors contemplating a rebuild following the December trade of Rudy Gay, Lowry's best friend, Ujiri nearly moved the point guard in a deal that would have sent him to New York. Fuelled by Lowry's breakout, the resurgent Raptors continued to win and Ujiri slowly became a believer.
Last season, Ujiri's first at the helm of the Raptors, was always supposed to be a "show me" year for Lowry. Ujiri had always promised to be fair to Lowry and maintained he would be given the platform to sink or swim.
Like any other investment, Lowry is a calculated risk but the Raptors are betting the 2013-14 version will be more of the norm than an anomaly going forward.
Prioritizing continuity this offseason, Ujiri can now shift his focus to re-signing restricted free agents Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez, both of whom should attract varying degrees of interest on the open market. If retained, the Raptors won't have much more than their mid-level exception to spend and could flirt with the luxury tax this coming season.