TORONTO - As rumours surrounding the future of Kyle Lowry - this summer's biggest free-agent prize at his position - begin to swirl, the most reasonable question that comes to mind is, what took so long?
The Raptors' breakout point guard has been the subject of recent speculation, originating at ESPN, connecting him to the four-time defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. The parties are said to have "mutual interest".
Often, where there's smoke there's fire, but that's not always the case in the NBA, especially not at this time of the year. Smoke, in this case, comes with the territory.
Fresh off a career season, leading the Raptors to an unexpected division title, Lowry is poised to become a coveted commodity in unrestricted free agency when he officially hits the open market on July 1. If the Heat are the first team to come knocking, they assuredly won't be the last.
Why wouldn't Miami be interested in Lowry's services? The Heat are less than a week removed from a disheartening trip to the NBA Finals, where they looked vastly inferior to the San Antonio Spurs in a five-game elimination. Their current point guard, Mario Chalmers - also a soon-to-be free agent - was notably ineffective en route to losing his starting job late in the series.
And Lowry? Why wouldn't he want to play in South Beach? Under the right circumstances, accompanied by a suitable contract, you would be hard-pressed to find someone unwilling to play in one of the league's most desirable destinations with LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet.
Therein lies the caveat, and it's a big one; money. The Heat, under their current construction, can only offer so much of it. Firstly, in order for Miami to put together a passable offer to Lowry or any other prominent free agent, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would need to opt out of their contracts - owing them each more than $20 million over the next two season - to renegotiate smaller deals. Udonis Haslem would likely have to do the same.
Lowry, underpaid for most of his eight-year career, has been one of the league's bargain players, earning just over $6 million last season. At best, Miami - or any other capped out team - may be able to offer something in that neighbourhood.
From a Raptors perspective, nothing has changed since Masai Ujiri addressed the point guard's future six weeks ago, making Lowry the team's top offseason priority.
"It's very important for us, in terms of continuity," said the Raptors' general manager that afternoon, asked about the likelihood of re-signing Lowry. "For me, negotiating is easy if we want Kyle to be here and Kyle wants to be here."
"I think we'll be fair with Kyle and we'll figure it out and I think it's important. So we'll go through that process but we're optimistic stuff will happen."
They remain confident to this day and much of that stems from the fact that they can offer Lowry more than any other team, while also providing him the platform to lead a winning team with a cast that he's comfortable with. The 28-year-old is staring down his first super-sized NBA contract and in a league where so much can change in three-to-four years, there are no guarantees that another one will follow.
Certainly, if he's willing to sacrifice in exchange for a better chance at competing for a championship he'll have that opportunity but for a player entering his prime, one with a young family to support, it would be surprising to see him leave that much money on the table. With the Raptors he could double the size of his most recent contract, a four-year $23 million deal signed back in 2010.
As you might expect, Lowry and his representatives will test the market, see what's out there and leverage the interest he's sure to get from other teams. As he wisely pointed out during a midseason wave of rumours following the trade of his best friend Rudy Gay, it's a business.
The Raptors will also have a big decision to make, holding the 20th pick in next week's draft, five days before teams are able to sit down and meet with their free agent point guard. Would they select a lead guard as insurance?
"I think the biggest thing is to not make draft decisions based on that, on your current roster and your current situations," Dan Tolzman, the Raptors' director of scouting, said last week. "You keep it in the back of your head and you'll take it into account when you're drafting players but if the most talented guy or the highest guy on your list happens to be a position that your loaded up with you can work stuff out later."
"So I don't think you really approach the draft like, okay we need a point guard because we don't know what the situation is. But at the same time if the best player on the board is a point guard, we'll figure it out."
And so it begins. For four months, primarily in the next two, the game shifts from the court to the boardroom, podium and social media sphere. The sound of sneakers squeaking and whistles whistling are replaced by rumours, bravado and conjecture. Buckle up.