Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry: Appreciating the nine-year impact of the Greatest Raptor of All Time

What began with a trade has ended with a sign-and-trade agreement.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Kyle Lowry has agreed to a three-year deal for approximately $90 million with the Miami Heat, ending an unforgettable run that began with an offseason deal over nine years ago.

In his time with Toronto, Lowry has been through it all - the highs and lows - and over time, has established himself as not only the face of the franchise but as the Greatest Raptor of All Time.

Just ask DeMar DeRozan or Serge Ibaka, for that matter.

Given the mutual love affair between Lowry and the city of Toronto, the end to his nine-year run as a Raptor was always going to be bittersweet. Following a year in which the team was unable to compete in front of their loyal fans at Scotiabank Arena, this ending feels much more bitter than sweet.

Ultimately, while things may have ended after a low season, it doesn't take away from the highs since Lowry's tenure began.

It all began on July 11, 2012, when the Raptors acquired Lowry from the Houston Rockets in exchange for Gary Forbes and a protected future first-round pick. Lowry, who was coming off of a solid season with the Rockets, was described by then Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo as "what I would characterize as the future of the (point guard) position."

In Lowry's first season as a Raptor, wins came at a premium as the team finished with a 34-48 record, with Lowry posting averages of 11.6 points, 6.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds while starting in 52 of the 68 games in which he appeared.

It was the trade of José Calderon in late January 2013 that effectively made Lowry the team's starting point guard for the remainder of the season and at the very least, the near future.

But the long-term future almost didn't come to be.

In December of 2013, Toronto had lost five straight to fall to 6-12 on the season. At one point, all signs indicated that Lowry was set to be dealt to the New York Knicks in what was essentially a done deal, per Lowry.

Instead, the deal fell through and the Raptors won 10 of their next 13 games to move above .500 before finishing the season with the East's third-best record at 48-34, ending the franchise's five-year postseason drought as Lowry finished the season with averages of 17.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 79 games.

From there, the legend was truly born.

In his first postseason series with the Raptors, Lowry posted averages of 21.1 points, 4.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds, but the magical run came to an end in Game 7 when Lowry's potential game-winner was blocked at the buzzer.

And while the season came to an end at that moment, it was that same moment that birthed the friendship between Lowry and DeRozan, who, as surprising as it may seem, didn't exactly like each other right away.

"I just remember how Kyle played," DeRozan said on the All The Smoke Podcast. "He outplayed Deron Williams. We was going at it with Joe (Johnson), Paul (Pierce), (Kevin Garnett) and we held our own and lost Game 7 by a point."

"And, from that moment in the playoffs, I had nothing but respect for him because every day he laid it out there. He didn't care about if he busted his jaw open, busted his lip. He's the first one to get up off the floor and keep pushing, so I think from there, that's what took off with our friendship and everything.

The 2014-15 season marked the first of Lowry's franchise-record six-consecutive All-Star appearances from 2015-20, a span in which the guard averaged 18.5 points, 7.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds and firmly established himself as the greatest Raptor ever.

After Toronto came up short in the 2015 postseason, Lowry responded in the best way he knew how, coming out on a mission to lead his team to what was the best record in franchise history at the time. The 2015-16 season saw Lowry earn the lone All-NBA selection of his career with averages of 21.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds as the Raptors cruised to a 56-26 record and the East's No. 2 seed.

Who could forget Lowry's legendary performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the regular season?

Or his epic game-tying heave against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals?

For the first time in franchise history, the team would appear in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the run came to an end at the hands of the eventual champion Cavaliers. Still, the 2016 season was monumental in that it finally dispelled the notion that Lowry and this Raptors team weren't built for the pressures of the postseason.

It was truly just one obstacle that stood in the way.

After being eliminated by the Cavs in 2016 and 2017, Lowry entered free agency with a number of suitors for his services. While he was highly sought after, Lowry would announce his return in a Players Tribune entry entitled "Home."

Lowry's first year on his new deal ended the same way as the previous two, at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavs. Only in the offseason of 2018, Masai Ujiri decided to swing for the fences by moving Lowry's best friend in DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard, a disgruntled star who had only played in nine games the previous year.

Now, as many would expect, Lowry was the disgruntled star. At media day, Lowry didn't exactly address the offseason trade but instead, maintained that he was there to do his job, sharing that the goal is to "try to win a gold ball here."

I think we all know how this story goes.

After the 2019 postseason opened with Lowry going scoreless in a loss, Toronto went on the most historic run in the franchise's history. Along the way, there were a number of great images but very few match the look of joy on Lowry's face when he realized his team would be advancing to the NBA Finals as Leonard sank free throws to ice the Game 6 victory.

And in the Finals, Lowry stepped up when it mattered most, averaging 16.2 points, 7.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds, saving his best for last as he opened the title-clincher with 15 first-quarter points, quickly establishing that he was again on a mission.

Fittingly, Lowry finished with a team-high-tying 26 points to go along with 10 assists and seven rebounds as he and the Raptors attained basketball immortality by becoming the 2019 NBA Champions.

Once considered a playoff underachiever, Lowry was now a champion. The gold ball had been attained.

Despite Leonard's departure a few weeks later, Lowry put forth quite the encore, stepping up to earn his sixth All-Star appearance in 2020 with averages of 19.4 points, 7.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds in a 2019-20 season that saw the Raptors finish second in the East with a 53-19 record and was brought to a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Through it all, Lowry was the steadying force for a team that dealt with injuries all year but somehow still managed to put forth the best win percentage in franchise history.

Lowry was at his best in the 2020 Playoffs at the NBA Restart, specifically in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals as he delivered an inspired performance that NBA.com's Scott Rafferty said might be played at Lowry's Hall of Fame induction.

Facing elimination, Lowry scored 33 points (on 12-for-20 shooting), pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists.

In over 53 minutes of action.

At 34, Lowry left it all out on the floor for his team. His franchise. His city.

Nothing quite encapsulates Lowry's nine-season run better than that performance against the Celtics. Through the years, Lowry's been willing to do whatever it takes to lead Toronto to wins. From laying his body on the line to his clutch performances and his leadership - by example and through his words.

He's taken young players under his wing and played an integral role in the growth and development of OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, each of whom has learned about what it is to be a Raptor from Lowry.

Both on and off the floor, Lowry has made a home in Toronto, making it a point to give back to the community that has given him so much with his annual giveaways during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, even in the midst of a pandemic.

And while Lowry's run came to an end following a down year in Tampa, we shouldn't look at the ending as unceremonious but rather enjoy all that came during the special run. Besides, we'll always remember that his final performance in a Raptor uniform was a dominant performance against the Los Angeles Lakers, something he's become accustomed to doing over the years.

You can call him KLow or North Philly's Finest, a six-time All-Star or the franchise's leader in assists, steals, 3s and triple-doubles. Just make sure that you include the titles of champion, future Hall of Famer and Greatest Raptor of All Time.

One day soon, No. 7 will hang in the rafters of Scotiabank Arena, not far from the banner that he helped raise - two physical reminders of an impact on a franchise that will be felt forever.

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