By Pete Baxter
Lebron James sets the bar for player influence on franchise decision making. From coaching changes to offseason transactions, Lebron’s borderline tampering is no secret.
Lebron watched his team drop in the standings all the way to the play-in tournament. He now stands on the precipice of the first opening round exit of his career in a 3-2 deficit to the Phoenix Suns.
While it is entirely possible that Lebron leads a comeback win in the series, there is no doubt he is already disappointed in his current supporting cast.
Specifically, after a zero-point, one assist disaster in game five of this series, it has to be clear to Lebron and Laker’s brass that Dennis Schroder is not the answer for this team. He is not that answer at point guard. He is not the answer as a third option on this team. While his regular seasons stats present an upgrade over Rajon Rondo, his playoff impact has been a serious downgrade.
Enter Kyle Lowry. Of the point guards potentially on the market in the offseason, Lowry is near the top of the list. At 35 years old, Lowry is a leader, a champion, and a great performer on both sides of the ball. He has proved himself to be an effective second or third option on a championship squad.
At this point in his career, he is ready to move on from his beloved Toronto Raptors to chase a second ring. The Raptors already have his successor in house in Fred VanVleet, and a solid back up point guard in Malachi Flynn.
A hypothetical transaction moving Kyle Lowry from Toronto to Los Angeles could turn out to be a win for both teams as well as Lowry himself.
Ironically, the Lakers were rumored to have been pursuing Lowry before the trade deadline but failed to nail down a lucrative-enough offer for Masai and company. However, particularly if the Lakers flame out early in the playoffs, the Lakers brass will likely be more apt to make a drastic move.
With that, let’s take a closer look at what this deal could look like:
The Sign and Trade
Kyle Lowry is an unrestricted free agent. If the Raptors simply let him walk, they will lose arguably the greatest player in their franchise’s history for absolutely nothing. That seems like an unlikely scenario, as they had several suitors at the trade deadline and opted to keep Lowry in house for the remainder of the season.
At 35 years old, a sign and trade deal may also be in Lowry’s best interest to maximize the years and money he could receive in his next (and potential final) NBA contract.
Lowry and the Raptors would need to agree on a destination for their star. Would there be a better place to ride out the golden years of his career and chase a second title than in sunny Los Angeles with Lebron James? I don’t foresee Lowry having a problem with the Lakers as his next team.
With Lowry and the Raptors on board, only the Lakers and their player/unofficial GM Lebron James to agree that Lowry is answer. As noted, with the disappointing playoff performance of Dennis Schroder, Lebron would be thrilled at the prospect of Lowry’s leadership, productivity and toughness Anthony Davis and himself. The Lebron/Davis/Lowry core would be a perfect big three to challenge the Nets and whatever other super teams may develop.
So, with everyone on the same page, let’s take a look at the details:
The Trade Pieces
First, the Raptors would need to sign Lowry to a new contract. At his advanced age, anything more than two years is unlikely. However, within those two years, it would be safe to expect a high level of productivity. Lowry was still a borderline All-Star this season, with averages of 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 5.4 boards per game at just under 40% from three. There is no reason to expect a dramatic drop off.
A two-year deal worth $25 million per season for Kyle Lowry would be fair for both parties and would be a contract the Lakers could work with. This is also what Lowry is personally reported to be expecting.
The Lakers have several viable pieces to offer the Raptors that could make the money work. Rumor has it, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and Dennis Schroder were the names being shopped at the deadline.
Schroder is a free agent himself, and as noted the Raptors have decent depth at the point already. Montrezl Harrell has a player option for the 2021/22 season worth just under $10 million. Caldwell Pope is under contract through 2022/23 making in the area of $13 million annually.
One other oft-shopped Laker whose contract fits in this scenario is Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma is under contract through 2023/24 (a player option year) at approximately $13 million per season and is only 25 years old. Kuzma is a swiss army knife of a player who can play on the wing or occasionally act as a small-ball center.
So, with the aforementioned players as the most likely pieces involved in this deal, let’s take a look at what may be the most beneficial potential deal.
The Raptors get:
Kyle Kuzma, F
Kentavious Caldwell Pope, G
Lakers 2022 First Round Draft Pick
The Lakers get:
Kyle Lowry, G
The Raptors trade away their longtime star point guard, receiving two valuable role players and future first round draft pick in return.
Caldwell-Pope is a solid 3-and-D wing player who would add great depth to the Raptors back court and even challenge for the starting shooting guard role if they can’t retain Gary Trent Jr. He is just 28 years old and under contract for two more seasons.
Kyle Kuzma has had an up-and-down start to his career However, at just 25 years old, he has strong career averages of 15.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. His defense has improved consistently throughout his career.
He saw his numbers drop over the past two seasons, and this could be the perfect time for Toronto to buy low and work him into this deal. At 6’10” he can provide great depth at either forward position, and could be used situationally as an athletic stretch five. He is a true swiss army knife of a player who could add a great deal of productivity and flexibility the Raptors line up.
Of course, future first-round draft capital is always a major bonus, particularly for a team looking to flesh out their young core as the Raptors are.
The Lakers receive a true third weapon to give Lebron and company at least two more cracks at another title. As noted, a big 3 of Lebron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Lowry should compete with any team in the league. Kyle Lowry gets an ideal opportunity to chase his own second championship at age 35, while locking down a multi-year fairly lucrative contract for his mid-to-late thirties.
The next week could prove to be make-or-break for a deal such as this to take place. If the Lakers are knocked out in the first-round of the playoffs, it would be a shocker if they failed to make a blockbuster deal for another All-Star player such as Lowry. However, if Anthony Davis gets healthy and the Lakers make another deep playoff run, they may be hesitant to make as notable a sacrifice for another aging star.
The Raptors are at a crossroads with one of their all-time great players. With Fred VanVleet ready to take over as the point guard of the future, it only makes sense for the Raptors to get everything they can for Lowry. A solid 3-and-D wing, a productive young player who still may have star potential in Kuzma, and a first-round draft pick would be a worthy haul.
More to come.