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Raptors in Flux after Lowry Free Agent Announcement

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was quick to divulge his offseason plans to opt out of his contract and declare free agency.

The Toronto media met with Lowry the morning after his Raptors were ousted from the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight season. Per TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, Lowry’s list of requirements for his next suitor is rather small.

The trade deadline acquisitions of forwards Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker combined with a limping Cavaliers squad were supposed to propel the Raptors to the NBA Finals or – at the very least – a more competitive series. Instead, the Raptors were laid to waste in four games by Lebron James, who is playing at a level that rivals his historical 2013 performance.

Apparently, the Cavaliers can flip that proverbial switch everyone was talking about, and it’s been on ever since.

Now, the Raptors are left pondering their future, including a possible identity change. With the impending departure of their floor leader in Lowry, they’ll have little choice. Even if they do retain Lowry, simply running it back would be a Sisyphus-like exercise in futility – as long as Lebron is performing at optimal capacity, the Cavaliers will always represent the boulder on their hill to success.

Toronto will need to be creative. According to Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale, the Raptors are projected to be $35.4 million over the proposed 2017-18 salary cap. If Lowry re-signs under a maximum contract, that cap figure will jump an additional $17 million. General Manager Masai Ujiri, will have his work cut out for him as he navigates the Raptors bloated cap this summer. Ujiri, one of the game’s brightest young front office executives, knows that change is necessary in order for the Raptors to achieve their ultimate goal.

“After that performance, we need a culture reset here,” Ujiri said in his postseason press conference. “Like, we need to figure it out. Yeah, there’s been some success, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to win a championship here. To me, making the playoffs is nothing.”

With Lowry already one foot out the door, Ujiri says that retaining the all-star guard will be a point of emphasis for the front office during the offseason. The amount they’re willing to pay for his services, however, remains to be seen.

“You’ve built this thing for a while, and is there another level to it?” Ujiri said on the topic of Lowry. “We have to account for that and be accountable for that. And we have to decide, is this the way we want to go in terms of money spent?”

Ujiri, a regular speaker at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, understands the value of floor spacing and premium outside shooting. Which makes the Raptors embarrassingly unimaginative and stagnant offense even more peculiar.

So how do they fix the scheme?

One possibility is to shop star shooting guard Demar Derozan. Derozan’s $27.7 million cap hit will be hard to move, especially coming off of a playoff performance that has many wondering if the guard can be a top player on a championship team. During the postseason, when weaknesses are exploited over the course of a series, Derozan’s inability to stretch the defense makes him easy to game plan for. In 10 postseason games, Derozan shot an unsightly 36 percent from 10-16 feet and 6(!) percent on three-pointers. On The Ringer NBA Show, Kevin O’Connor proposed that the Raptors try to trade Derozan for a 1st round pick. If a team is willing to give up a top 10 pick, Ujiri has to consider it. The salary relief would allow Toronto to fill in the roster with outside shooters and install the kind of offense Ujiri wants.

Will Head Coach Dwayne Casey be tasked with implementing that shiny new offense? That also remains to be seen. Ujiri was lukewarm on Casey before offering an extension last offseason and little has changed to alter that opinion. Ujiri wouldn’t give Casey a vote of confidence and spent a good portion of his press conference emphasizing the need for a new offensive philosophy.

“There are things that I questioned,” Ujiri said. “I think our style of play is something that we’re going to really evaluate. The one-on-one basketball we play, we have to question that.”

It’s going to be a long and interesting offseason north of the border. Stay tuned.

About Patrick Graziosi

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