On the surface, Kyle Lowry's extension announced on Monday makes sense as it rewards a franchise icon for years of service that culminated in delivering the first NBA championship to the Toronto Raptors.
REPORT: Lowry, Raptors agree to one-year, $31 million extension
Legacy deals are nothing new.
When the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a 2-year, $48.5M dollar contract with Kobe Bryant in November 2013, it had far more to do with everything Bryant had accomplished in purple and gold up to that point than it did for what he might accomplish during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. The Lakers weren't paying Bryant for services yet rendered as much as they were rewarding him for the memories of the past while acknowledging that he wasn't yet ready to call it quits.
Kyle Lowry is not Kobe Bryant. And yet it might be easy to paint Lowry's picture with a similar brush.
The five-time All-Star point guard that ushered in a new wave of unprecedented success and ranked near the top of the franchise all-time list in nearly every major statistical category. The quintessential floor general that brought the Raptors close enough to the point where Masai Ujiri felt compelled to roll the dice on a DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard swap that put the team over the top, but that just as easily could have backfired.
Kyle Lowry has done so much for the Raptors that on the surface, it makes complete sense to pay $31 million to a point guard that will be 34 and entering his 15th season in 2020-21. Lowry deserves every opportunity to close out his career on his terms, to play out this upcoming season without answering daily questions a result of the shadow of trade speculation, to remain in the city where he staked his claim as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.
MORE: Is Lowry a Hall of Famer?
On the surface, Lowry deserves the legacy deal.
But that's disrespectful to Lowry for one simple fact: this isn't a legacy deal.
As the entire world just saw first hand on the biggest stage during the NBA Finals, Lowry has a ton left in the tank. Sure, the overall regular season numbers might be on the decline, but when it matters the most, Lowry makes winning plays and commands respect as one of the NBA's handful of two-way, leave it on the table, ride-or-die floor generals.
For what Lowry might lack in eye-popping box-score production, he more than makes up for in the eyes of advanced metrics which still hold him in high esteem. Last season, Lowry ranked fifth among point guards in Real Plus-Minus (RPM), the fourth straight season he's ranked among the top 5 at his position. RPM measures how many points per 100 possessions a player adds to his team and in layman's terms, provides a barometer for how much a player contributes to winning.
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Good things happen when Lowry's on the floor. And keeping Lowry in the fold for the 2020-21 season ensures that enough good things will happen consistently to keep the Raptors competitive beyond this upcoming season.
In previous years, conventional wisdom may have suggested that in order to build for the future, the Raptors would be smart to flip Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka now. With all three sitting on expiring deals that add up to a total of over 80 million dollars, moving veteran players now for future assets makes some sense given it's highly unlikely that Toronto operates as a true contender this season.
But there's another school of thought.
What if the best way to contend isn't to bottom out and build through the draft? What if the best way to build is to remain competitive, to invest in winning now, to trust in your culture and to develop a system that fosters excellence?
It just happened in Brooklyn.
Rather than tanking their way towards the bottom of the east and amassing lottery tickets, the Brooklyn Nets bet big on the idea that competing hard and remaining relevant with a smart front office and infrastructure would ultimately be enough to go big game hunting.
They parlayed an unlikely playoff berth into Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Instead of emptying the cupboards and starting over, the Nets are suddenly in position to win it all with a window that extends several years into the future.
It just happened in Los Angeles.
The Clippers aren't that far removed from competing for titles with the Lob City core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Even though all three are gone, the Clippers opted to hold onto their other pieces with value, to compete hard and to trust that their foundation would be enough to swing the pendulum back sooner rather than later.
Where did that lead?
The ink is dry on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George coming to town and suddenly, the Clippers are the favourites to win the whole thing in 2020. They didn't panic. They didn't start over. They didn't concede today for a dream that perhaps things might be better tomorrow.
MORE: Odds to win 2020 title
Keeping Kyle Lowry through at least the 2020-21 season ensures that the Raptors won't bottom out. Lowry's presence along with Pascal Siakam ensures a certain level of competence in a conference that isn't deep. Toronto can hold its chin high, defend a title with honour, compete hard in 2020-21 and enter the summer of 2021 with a legitimate chance to come out the big winners ala Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
2021 is potentially the summer of Giannis Antetokounmpo. And LeBron James. And Paul George. And Bradley Beal.
And Kawhi Leonard.
When the Nets and Clippers struck it big this offseason, they didn't get lucky. They didn't just fall into a treasure chest as a result of sitting idly by, allowing the stars to align and falling into monumental acquisitions.
These things don't happen by accident, but are a result of astute chess moves made over the course of years.
Building championship contenders don't just happen overnight, even if the ink on one or two decisions dries overnight.
In this vein, Kyle Lowry's extension isn't a legacy deal by any stretch, but the first major post-Kawhi chess move to build towards establishing a new championship legacy in Toronto.
Monday's signing isn't about what the Raptors All-Star point guard has delivered up to this point, it's about what he can deliver over the next two seasons so that the Raptors are as prepared as anyone to make it big and return to the top of the championship mountain.
The Lowry extension is the first event in a sequence that could ultimately lead to the next championship team in Toronto.
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