Being traded to another team is one of the hardest things a basketball player ever has to do, emotionally speaking. After years with the same squad, playing to home crowds night after night, making championship runs, selling jerseys with their name emblazoned on the back, the city takes an ownership stake in the person—and to watch that person leave the city behind, to see them on another home court, suiting up in a different set of colours, can be an incredibly difficult experience. Obviously, trades happen. That’s basketball. But when you really love a player, you never want to see them with another team.
Toronto really loves Kyle Lowry. More than any other player on the Raptors today, Lowry is the heart and soul of the team—the ultra-gifted All-Star point guard whose leadership skills, playmaking abilities, and natural talent on and off the ball make him utterly indispensable to the success of the organization. If the Raptors are in serious contention for another ring this season, it will be largely because of what Kyle Lowry brings to the table. But even more than his aptitude on the hardwood, more than his 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game, it’s his attitude and personality that makes him essential to the team and vital to the city. He’s so much a part of what makes the Raptors the Raptors that it’s hard to imagine the Raptors without him.
Nevertheless, the prospect of a Kyle Lowry trade has been looming over the Raptors since almost the beginning of the season. There are a number of factors that seem to have contributed to the rumour: Lowry’s advancing age, his top-dollar contract fee, the team’s uncharacteristic struggles with its starting lineup. The Raptors win record has been hovering near the .500 mark after a rocky start to the season, and with some crucial wins under their belt, things definitely seem to be improving. Still, the team hasn’t looked like a championship contender since losing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, and with Aaron Baynes not working out as hoped, there’s been a lot of league-wide talk about a rebuild structured around shipping out Lowry.
“He doesn’t have one foot out the door. He is acutely aware of how much the city of Toronto means to him—and how much he means to the city of Toronto.”
It didn’t help matters that Lowry put his Toronto house on the market, or that various unnamed industry insiders were quoted as saying that Lowry was looking to return to his roots and play for Philadelphia. Practically every week for the last three months, Twitter has been convinced that Lowry is being targeted by a different organization, with elaborate four-team trade schemes being mocked up and mapped out that have found Lowry landing everywhere from Miami to Los Angeles. No trade rumour was too far-fetched sounding to be reported by the media credulously—and in a season where James Harden and Blake Griffin can wind up on the Nets, the possibilities did indeed seem endless.
But for Raptors fans, the idea of losing Lowry was too bleak to bear. Of course, this team has faced its share of difficult losses over the years: It hurts to watch Kawhi and Ibaka make an extremely compelling playoff run together with the Clippers when we would rather them both in Toronto (or Tampa Bay), and DeMar DeRozan still feels at heart like a Raptor even though he’s been a Spur now for years. But the length of Lowry’s tenure with the team, and his essential role in the team’s accomplishments over that period, have made his presence feel inseparable from the organization. It wouldn’t be like seeing Powell, or Siakim, or even VanVleet shipped out, much as each of those guys contribute every night and much as they belong here. With Lowry it feels like he belongs in Toronto even more.
Luckily for us, it sounds like Lowry feels the same way. He took the time before the Raptors game against the Hawks on Wednesday night to address the circulating rumours about the possibility of him leaving head-on, dismissing the idea that he’d been asking to leave the team or that he’d said to anyone that he wanted to head elsewhere. He was careful not to commit to anything, and he made it seem like an actual trade could still be theoretically possible: “Everyone has to do what’s best for them and that situation,” he explained. But he was abundantly clear about one thing. When it comes to the Raptors, Lowry’s all in.
“Let me say this,” he told reporters. “I will retire as a Toronto Raptor.” Whether that means, in practice, that he will continue to play with the team after the expiration of his contract until he’s finished with the game in a few years, or whether he’ll simply sign a one-day contract at the end of his career as a formality to honour the connection, only time will tell. What matters, though, is that Lowry made this effort to clarify his position on the matter and to emphasize, so that there’s no doubt whatsoever, that his heart is with the Raptors completely. He isn’t actively looking elsewhere. He doesn’t have one foot out the door. He is acutely aware of how much the city of Toronto means to him—and how much he means to the city of Toronto.
It seems like a lifetime ago now, especially as the Raptors play to empty auditoriums across the border and host “home” games in another town, but this situation brings to mind the afternoon after the Raptors won the championship when the entire team celebrated their win with a victory parade that took over the city. Hoisting the trophy above his head, shooting streams of champagne out over the crowd of hundreds of thousands, Lowry looked like he was having the time of his life, and the Torontonians who gathered were feeding on his enthusiasm. You don’t soon forget the feeling of a celebration like that. I don’t think Lowry will ever forget the love and support that the entire city was pouring out for him that day, and the victory he helped bring home will no doubt leave its mark on Toronto forever.
We need to stop doubting the man and worrying that he’ll end up elsewhere. Because even if the worst happens and Lowry heads to another team— ven if he lands elsewhere before this season’s trade deadline, or takes another offer after his contract expires—he’ll never truly be a Laker or 76er, or whatever he nominally turns out to be. At heart, Toronto knows that the city and Lowry are inextricably tied. We know that no matter what, Kyle Lowry will always be a Raptor.