NBA trade deadline: Kyle Lowry, ‘maybe the greatest Raptor ever,’ prepares for his potential departure

NBA trade deadline: Kyle Lowry, ‘maybe the greatest Raptor ever,’ prepares for his potential departure

The prideful competitor left the floor. Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry saw a camera tracking him as he walked through the entrance tunnel. Lowry held out two fingers with both of his hands and waved, an image that may have represented his final moment as a Raptors player on the eve of the NBA trade deadline.

“Usually I (BS) y’all. But it was kind of weird tonight not knowing what the next step would be,” Lowry said following the Raptors’ 135-111 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. “Just with understanding there are things that could possibly be done on the front of me and the other guys on our team and the organization.”

Lowry spoke those words without any hint of resentment. Instead, he spoke matter-of-factly. Raptors coach Nick Nurse argued that Lowry will “go down as maybe the greatest Raptor ever” after helping the organization win the 2019 NBA championship, ranking as the second-best scorer in franchise history and first all-time in assists, 3-pointers, steals and triple-doubles. But with the Raptors (18-26) laboring in the Eastern Conference, they may deal Lowry and his expiring $30.5 million contract before Thursday’s trade deadline (3 p.m. ET) to a contending team for assets that could include young talent and draft picks.

“Whatever will be, will be, honestly,” Lowry said. “That’s the truth. Whatever will be, will be. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason and you can’t control everything and in some situations you can, but every decision that has happened that I’ve had a choice in doing has worked out for me very well and everything will be fine. At the end of the day, everything will be fine no matter what happens.”

What would Lowry like to happen? Would he prefer to stay with the Raptors after spending the past nine seasons of his 15-year career where he won a championship, competed in two Eastern Conference finals and made eight playoff appearances? Or would he prefer another team that would give him a better chance to win another NBA title than a Raptors team that might be on the verge of a rebuild?

“I don’t know. I wish I could give you a decision,” Lowry said. “If something happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, right? Everything happens for a reason. I personally don’t know right now, I don’t really put too much thought into it.”

Instead of fretting about that unknown, Lowry pledged to keep his mind occupied another way on his 34th birthday Thursday. He planned to have a late-night dinner following Wednesday’s game. With the Raptors scheduled to have an optional practice, he also planned to spend time with his children and complete a round of golf. Otherwise, Lowry planned to have his agent, Mark Bartelstein, handle the countless phone calls and inquiries leading into the deadline.

“I’ll go about my life,” Lowry said. “I don’t have an open line, but my phone will be on and he’s in my ‘favorites’ so it’ll get through when he calls. But yeah, I’ll live my life.”

How Lowry has handled the uncertainty about his future partly explains the Raptors’ affection for him in the first place.

During earlier stops with the Memphis Grizzlies (2007-09) and Houston Rockets (2009-12), Lowry developed a reputation for his stubbornness, his clashes with coaches and his struggles to stay healthy. But after the Raptors acquired him in the 2012 offseason from Houston, Lowry soon blossomed into a six-time All-Star. He still showed his fiery side, including when he questioned the Raptors in 2018 for including good friend DeMar DeRozan in a trade package to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. But that never compromised Lowry’s devotion to his craft. It also helps that move led to the Raptors winning an NBA title.

“He plays harder than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Nurse said. “On the court coaching, coaching against or watching games, he’s played harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. I can’t give him a higher compliment than that.”

Nurse then broke his promise and did.

Nurse praised Lowry’s energy in the locker room and on the court that helped the Raptors beat the Warriors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Nurse recalled the countless times Lowry “would make six plays” in “a three-minute flurry” that would include making a steal, collecting a charge, salvaging a possession, knocking over opponents and making a basket. And even with the Raptors also hosting Leonard, DeRozan, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh in a uniform, Nurse unprompted argued that Lowry could be seen as the franchise’s best player.

“That comment from him is flattering and is awesome,” Lowry said. “But that’s for everyone else to talk about. For me, it’s just, I’ve always done my job at a high level and try to continue to grow and be the best basketball player I can be.”

It seemed fitting that Lowry finished his potential last Raptors game with eight points, nine assists and a plus-minus of +42, four points shy of tying Mark Jackson for the highest plus-minus total of any Raptors player in a single game. When Lowry left the game with 5:36 remaining, he embraced his teammates. If only he had the Raptors fans to cheer him in Toronto as opposed to playing in Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. The Raptors have played there all season because of Canada’s strict health and safety protocols with the coronavirus pandemic.

“I do truly miss the fans,” Lowry said. “I miss the fans, I miss just the atmosphere, the energy, just overall just being there.”

Lowry named various behind-the-screen Raptors employees. Lowry praised TSN’s all-female broadcast crew, which included Meghan McPeak, Kia Nurse, Kayla Grey and Kate Beirness. And moments later, Lowry fielded a Face-time call from Canadian rapper Drake, who normally attends Raptors games in Toronto.

Lowry may have spoken for 23 minutes on the NBA trade deadline and his time with the Raptors. He may have expressed appreciation for various Raptors coaches, teammates and front office members. Yet, on possibly the last day he wore a Raptors uniform, Lowry did not sound quite ready to on reminisce on his Raptors legacy just yet.

“That’s something for when I retire or whenever that is,” Lowry said. “I’ve never thought of it. I’ve said this to you guys a million times, whenever the time comes I’ll think about other stuff when that happens. But the story is not complete, put it that way. My career is not complete, my time in Toronto isn’t essentially over. There’s been no decision made and done, so with that being said, I don’t know. You know what I mean? I don’t know, truthfully. I don’t know what I want. I just know that I’ve given a lot and I’ll continue to give my all, no matter what.”