Raptors NBA free agency preview: Lowry’s decision will have massive ripple effects

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It isn’t all that often where the always zany NBA Free agency market has a heavy Raptors flavour, but this is one of those years.

Especially if Kawhi Leonard stuns the hoops world and decides maybe being home with the Los Angeles Clippers doesn’t agree with him after all. Given Leonard partially tore his ACL during the playoffs, the odds strongly favour him staying put, but this is, with apologies to Bryan Colangelo and his description of Andrea Bargnani, the ultimate enigma of enigmas we are talking about. Nobody ever knows what Kawhi is going to do.

Regardless, Raptors icon Kyle Lowry is considered one of the most desirable players who will be up for grabs starting Monday at 6 p.m. ET. Of course no official business can be signed in ink until the moratorium period ends at 12:01 p.m. Friday afternoon, but it’s rare that the significant transactions aren’t agreed to within the first 48 hours of talks or so. DeMar DeRozan is also now an unrestricted free agent, as is Norman Powell, furthering the Raptor ties.

Lowry was supposed to be an appetizer when he agreed to a year’s extension on his existing contract with the Raptors shortly after they returned from Japan in 2019, but Giannis Antetokounmpo, the superstar many teams — Raptors included — were leaving the cap sheets clean for, decided to stay in Milwaukee, which worked out well for Giannis and the Bucks. But Milwaukee’s NBA Finals opponent, the Phoenix Suns, were led by an ageless, ultra-competitive two-way floor general in Chris Paul. The NBA is a league of copycats, so suitors will be lining up for Lowry, thinking he can do what Paul did for the young Suns.

Lowry’s long been linked to the Miami Heat and his good friend Jimmy Butler, but Dallas has been clearing the decks for a nice fit beside star guard Luka Doncic, New Orleans has been tied to Lowry in a bid to keep Zion Williamson happy and Philadelphia, Lowry’s hometown team and a group seen as a viable contender once the Ben Simmons situation gets sorted out, is also a strong option.

A sign-and-trade could net Toronto some sort of a return for Lowry and Lowry also could return to Toronto, a team that could still use him after opting for Scottie Barnes over guard Jalen Suggs. Fred VanVleet and last year’s first-round pick Malachi Flynn are already on board and Gary Trent Jr. is an unrestricted free agent the Raptors can retain by either signing outright, or matching any outside offer, but there’s always room for Lowry both on the court and in the locker room, should both sides be interested.

The Raptors also need to find a starting centre — Sacramento Kings unrestricted big man Richaun Holmes has been regarded as a probable target — and Toronto has also been linked to restricted free agent Jarrett Allen (Cleveland just drafted big man Evan Mobley third overall, but is at least saying Mobley and Allen can co-exist together). There are other options. Canadians Khem Birch and Kelly Olynyk, to name two.

The guard options are limited, with Lonzo Ball or Spencer Dinwiddie probably making the most sense for the Raptors.

We’ll spare you the vagaries of the NBA’s salary cap mechanisms, but the Raptors can go in a number of directions, largely depending on what Lowry decides to do. There are paths to opening up significant salary cap room, there’s a way to have enough to make a big offer to one player, such as Holmes and there’s also a scenario where Lowry sticks around and the team uses the mid-level exception ($9.5M) to get some help up front.

Toronto has options on Rodney Hood and Aron Baynes that won’t be picked up unless they are packaged in a trade. Canadian Chris Boucher can also be sent to free agency, because the Raptors have an option on him too, but that’s an unlikely scenario unless they absolutely need every cent of cap space to make a huge signing.

The issue with that idea is this is not a strong free agent crop.

Toronto has now exited its temporary home in Tampa Bay ahead of the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas, which starts next Sunday. General manager Bobby Webster had said at a post-draft availability that the hope is a return to their Toronto headquarters will follow. His boss, Masai Ujiri, is also a free agent. You might have heard. But Ujiri has been operating as if he isn’t going anywhere, evaluating prospects and showing up front and centre in every shot of the team’s draft war room.

At some point he might even make it official. After all, it’s already been a pretty long moratorium period on the Ujiri front.

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