Will he stay or will he go?
This offseason, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry will be an unrestricted free agent, giving him the option of signing with any team of his choosing.
Lowry appeared in 46 of a possible 72 games this season and wasn't named an All-Star for the first time since 2013-14, but he still averaged 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds on .436/.396/.857 shooting splits. There are a number of teams around the league that would benefit from his playmaking, shooting, defence and leadership, making him one of this offseason's top free agents.
For Lowry, there are a few things on his check list heading into free agency.
"To be honest with you, my family will be a major factor in this," Lowry said in his exit interview. "You know, also, money talks and years talk and all that stuff. And let's be real - I play this game for the love of the game, but at the end of the day, I want to make sure my family is still taken care of for generations and the time to come."
Additionally, Lowry said that "championships are a big key to why I play this game."
Other than the Raptors, which teams can offer the six-time All-Star what he's looking for?
New York Knicks
The Knicks are going to have a lot of money to spend in free agency.
According to RealGM's Keith Smith, the maximum amount of cap space the Knicks can create in the offseason is $72.8 million, the most in the league. Guaranteeing Julius Randle's contract for the 2021-22 season would eat into that space, but they'd still be in a position to sign someone like Lowry to a big contract.
While the Knicks aren't as far along as some other teams on this list, they were the biggest surprise in the NBA this season, going 41-31 to finish with the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. They could also have a need for a point guard depending on what happens to Derrick Rose and Elfrid Payton, both of whom are set to hit unrestricted free agency themselves.
The Knicks are already one of the league's better defensive teams, but they ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency this season. With his shooting and playmaking, Lowry would help solve some of the problems they ran into in their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks.
Two other teams that are projected to have a similar amount of cap space as the Knicks this offseason: San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. While both could offer Lowry the type of money he might be looking for, they don't have as much of a need for a point guard as the Knicks do. The Spurs have Dejounte Murray under contract until 2023-24 and the Thunderjust acquired Kemba Walker from the Boston Celtics.
If Lowry is looking to maximize his earnings and still play a big role on a team that should be competitive, the Knicks are a strong possibility.
The Heat will have some money to spend as well. Not as much as the Knicks, but the Heat could create a decent amount of cap room this offseason by not re-signing Victor Oladipo and declining the team options of both Goran Dragic ($19.4 million) and Andre Iguodala ($15.0 million) for 2021-22.
It wouldn't be a surprise if the Heat do pursue Lowry in free agency. According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Heat were one of the teams the Raptors were "seriously engaged with" on a potential Lowry deal at this season's trade deadline. Not only that, but The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that had Lowry been traded, his preference was the Heat because of his "close relationship with Jimmy Butler."
Working in the Heat's favour is the two other teams that were reportedly in pursuit of Lowry at the trade deadline - the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers - won't have cap space this offseason.
It's not hard to imagine Lowry fitting in well with the Heat. He'd be an upgrade over Dragic, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro defensively, and he has the potential to complement Butler and Bam Adebayo well offensively, giving them another ball handler and shooter.
The Heat's season ended with a first-round sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks, but Lowry could get them back on the path towards contention.
The 76ers won't have cap space, but there is one way they could still acquire Lowry.
According to The Athletic's Sam Amick and John Hollinger, the 76ers are planning to pursue Lowry in the offseason "by way of a possible sign-and-trade."
It's hard to think about what a trade package for Lowry would look like without knowing what his salary is going to be next season and beyond, but the 76ers wouldn't have a hard time matching anything if they're willing to part ways with either Tobias Harris ($36.0 million) or Ben Simmons ($31.6 million). (I'm assuming Joel Embiid is off limits for what should be obvious reasons). Otherwise, Philly's best bet would be guaranteeing George Hill's entire salary of $10.0 million for next season and using that as the foundation of a package.
Of course, the Raptors would have to sign off on a sign-and-trade, but the 76ers do have some players who could be of interest outside of Harris and Simmons. Matisse Thybulle established himself as one of the league's best perimeter defenders this season, earning his first All-Defensive Second Team selection. The No. 21 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Tyrese Maxey showed some potential in his rookie season, averaging 8.0 points on 46.2 percent shooting from the field in 15.3 minutes per game.
Seth Curry, 30, is much older than both Thybulle, 23, and Maxey, 20, but his shooting would be a welcomed addition to pretty much any team in the league.
The icing on the cake? Lowry was born in Philadelphia and attended Villanova. Joining the 76ers would be a homecoming for him.
Dallas Mavericks - The Mavericks could have as much as $35.4 million in cap space this offseason, but it hinges on Josh Richardson declining his $11.6 million player option for next season, which seems unlikely. (Also, re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. would eat into a lot of their cap space). Still, Lowry would be a nice pickup for the Mavericks because of his potential fit next to Luka Doncic as a secondary ball handler. If they can create the room, Lowry makes a lot of sense.
Chicago Bulls - There is a path towards the Bulls creating enough cap space to be in the Lowry sweepstakes. The Bulls made it clear that they're looking to compete when they made a move for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline. Adding Lowry to their core of Zach LaVine and Vucevic could turn them into one of the Eastern Conference's better teams.
Los Angeles Lakers - Another sign-and-trade option if there's interest on both sides. The Lakers probably wouldn't be able to make as appealing of an offer as the 76ers, but the Raptors might not have much leverage if Lowry decides Los Angeles is where he ultimately wants to be.
New Orleans Pelicans - According to Marc Stein, there is "rising buzz" New Orleans, which is reportedly desperate to help Zion Williamson reach the playoffs, plans to enter the race for Lowry in free agency.
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