Kyle Lowry

Raptors Rumors: Leonard, Lowry, George

Despite playing only half their games so far this season with both of their All-Stars – Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry – in the lineup, the Raptors have one of the NBA’s best records. Their 30-12 mark puts them a half-game ahead of the 28-11 Bucks, though they technically trail Milwaukee by percentage points.

With Lowry now back in the lineup after battling back and hip issues and Leonard potentially ready to start playing in back-to-backs soon, the Raptors are well positioned for a big second half. And the team’s performance the rest of the way – and in the postseason – could go a long way toward determining whether Leonard remains in Toronto beyond this season, a subject Chris Mannix explores in his latest piece for SI.com.

Mannix’s article features several interesting notes and tidbits on Kawhi and the Raptors, so we’ll round up a few highlights here:

  • According to Mannix, the Raptors are prepared to offer Leonard a five-year, maximum-salary offer – or any other deal he’s interested in – this offseason, and don’t view that sort of an investment as a risk.
  • While Leonard’s upcoming free agency is rarely discussed in the Raptors’ locker room, everyone knows how important his decision will be in determining the future of the franchise, per Mannix. “We need him to stay,” Serge Ibaka said. “He keeps everybody safe — no one is safe if he leaves.”
  • Even before the Raptors acquired Leonard, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri had been itching to shake up his roster, according to Mannix, who reports that Ujiri approached the Thunder last season about a possible swap centered around DeMar DeRozan and Paul George.
  • Speaking of George, Mannix writes that Raptors officials have privately acknowledged that the Thunder’s success in retaining George emboldened them to roll the dice on Leonard. Of course, George’s bond with Russell Westbrook contributed in large part to PG13’s decision to remain in Oklahoma City. It remains to be seen if Kyle Lowry can be that same sort of recruiter, given his “frosty” relationship with Ujiri, who traded away his best friend DeRozan.
  • When the NBA issued a memo last month reminding teams of its anti-tampering rules, it was viewed by most as a response to LeBron James‘ comments about Anthony Davis. However, several clubs, including Toronto, interpreted the memo’s reference to “intentional” and “repeated” social courtesies as a message to the Clippers, says Mannix. The Clips have reportedly been sending officials, including president of basketball ops Lawrence Frank, to a number of Raptors games this season as they eye Leonard as a 2019 free agent target.

Raptors Offer Updates On Lowry, Valanciunas

It appears optimism about Kyle Lowry‘s return from quad and back issues was premature. The Raptors announced today in an email that their All-Star point guard had pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory injections for his lower-back soreness on Friday, and the team isn’t sure when he might return to action.

Lowry has taken the court just once in Toronto’s past eight games as the Raptors have slipped out of first place in the East. On Sunday, coach Nick Nurse told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps he expected Lowry back soon, but it appears the wait will be longer than expected.

“Any of our guys, we want them back as soon as possible,” Nurse said. “… I think we’re positive and hopeful that it’s going in the right direction, and we’ll see him back soon.”

Lowry’s injury is a two-part problem, Bontemps explains. At first, he was sidelined for a quad issue, then he missed the last three games with back soreness. He is averaging 14.4 points and a career-best 9.8 assists per night.

The Raptors also updated the condition of center Jonas Valanciunas, who had surgery after dislocating his left thumb on December 12. He had sutures removed from his hand three days ago and has started the rehab process, although no date has been set for him to return.

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Leonard, Siakam

In advance of an ESPN showdown between two Eastern Conference leaders – the Raptors and Sixers – in Toronto on Wednesday night, Kyle Lowry sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (video link) to discuss a handful of topics, including the offseason trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio and his relationship with Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.

Acknowledging that he felt “some type of way on the personal side” after the Raptors sent his best friend to the Spurs, Lowry didn’t offer much when asked about where things stand with Ujiri.

“He’s the president of basketball operations, and that’s it,” Lowry said. “I come out here and do my job. He does his job and I do my job, right? That’s what you do.”

As Eric Koreen of The Athletic observes in a Twitter thread, Lowry and Ujiri may not exactly be buddy-buddy, but the veteran point guard has talked in the past about how grateful he is for the team’s investment in him. There’s also nothing to indicate that any lingering unease about how the DeRozan trade went down is a distraction for the Raptors or Lowry, who – by all accounts – has been a terrific teammate and leader this season.

Here’s more out of Toronto:

  • The Raptors have been working hard for years to turn Toronto into an attractive destination for NBA players, and Kawhi Leonard‘s upcoming free agency decision will represent the next big test of the club’s place in the league, as Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com writes.
  • In an excellent piece for ESPN.com, Jackie MacMullan takes an in-depth look at the unusual road to the NBA traveled by Pascal Siakam, who looks like an early frontrunner for this season’s Most Improved Player award.
  • Despite their league-best 20-5 record, the Raptors have endured some injury woes, rebounding and shooting issues, and some “clunky stretches” this season, writes Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star. In other words, there may be room for improvement. “There have been some ups and downs; it seems like a lot of ups because we’ve been winning a lot,” Lowry said. “The flaws that you see, they’re fixable. If we fix this, imagine how much better we could be.”

Raptors Notes: Green, Miles, Kawhi, Lowry

Two Raptors sharpshooters in possible contract years are having two very different seasons so far, writes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca in a look at Danny Green and C.J. Miles.

Green, earning $10MM this season, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 and is playing as well as he has in years, averaging 9.6 PPG, shooting a team-best 43.0% from the beyond the arc, and providing strong perimeter defense. He’ll be 32 years old when he hits the open market next July, but he’s positioning himself well for at least one more nice payday.

On the other end of the spectrum, Miles has struggled mightily so far in 2018/19 — his 5.5 PPG would be his worst mark since the 2007/08 season, and his .288 3PT% is substantially below his career mark. Miles figures to bounce back at some point, but he looks like a virtual lock to exercise his $8.73MM player option for 2019/20 rather than opting for free agency.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • It looks like a no-brainer in hindsight, but the Raptors took a big gamble when they traded for Kawhi Leonard in the offseason, and so far that gamble is paying off in a big way, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com. “It’s a great trade for Toronto, even if [Leonard] leaves,” one league executive said. “I just never saw them going any further than they had with DeMar [DeRozan].”
  • Speaking of Leonard, he has a new multiyear endorsement deal in place with New Balance, league sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. The former NBA Finals MVP passed on an extension with Jordan Brand earlier this year.
  • In a conversation with Michael Lee of The Athletic, Kyle Lowry explained why he’s no longer upset about the Raptors’ decision to trade his best friend DeRozan, and talked about adjusting to playing alongside an MVP-caliber player like Leonard. “Me, how I am, I want to make sure he’s comfortable,” Lowry said of Kawhi. “He’s the most talented player that we have. He’s our best player. He’s got a ring. Why not? Danny’s been great, too. Nothing is ever awkward because this is a small brotherhood. We all respect what we do.”

Western Notes: Lowry, Covington, Rockets

The Jazz saw Gordon Hayward walk away after the 2016/17 campaign but he wasn’t the only star the team had an eye on that offseason. Utah spoke with Kyle Lowry‘s representatives during the summer of 2017 and the organization felt confident that it could sign Lowry, sources tell Andy Larsen and Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune.

The front office decided to pull out of the Lowry sweepstakes because signing the point guard would have required the team to use the cap space it had planned to use for Hayward. Lowry ended up re-signing with Toronto on a three-year pact.

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

Kyle Lowry Talks DeRozan, Kawhi, Raptors

When the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs in July in a package for Kawhi Leonard, it broke up one of the NBA’s most likeable duos, leaving Kyle Lowry in Toronto while his best friend DeRozan headed to San Antonio.

Speaking to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated on Wednesday night after the Raptors beat the Kings, Lowry opened up about that trade and about his club’s offseason. While Lowry’s unwillingness to speak to reporters about the deal at a Team USA mini-camp during the summer was viewed as a sign of his possible unhappiness, the veteran point guard tells Spears that he never does any interviews in the summer, and that his silence wasn’t directly related to that trade.

Acknowledging that he was “a little emotional” when he first learned of the blockbuster deal, Lowry said that “everyone made peace with it” and is in a good place now. He also shared his thoughts on several other topics in his conversation with Spears. Here are some of the highlights:

On the eventual returns to Toronto for former head coach Dwane Casey and DeRozan:

“I’m not looking forward to seeing coach next week. It’s weird. Then seeing DeMar is going to be different. It’s going to weird. And I’m sure they are going to show a video tribute, and I might get emotional. I won’t cry. I won’t do that. We have always talked about it by saying that we’re going to reflect on our careers when we are done and sitting on our porches chilling sipping on some lemonade.”

On how he feels about the Raptors’ changes now that the dust has settled:

“Our record is good. We’re playing well. For me, it’s long-, long-term. Stay level[-headed]. You can’t worry about this and that. You got to make sure that when the time comes, April, May, June, that we are still playing. That’s when you get asked about what the team is and what this year is. Right now, we’re just 12 games in. It’s too early to tell. We got to just stay the path.”

On playing with Leonard:

“He’s a great player. He’s still getting his feet under him. I still believe he has some work to do. Like today, he was a little off a little bit. But he’s doing his job and he is going to continue to get better.”

On whether he still wanted to be in Toronto after the team traded DeRozan:

“That’s a good question. I just wanted to be where I could win and I was wanted. And it was here. They didn’t trade me. So, I guess this was the situation I was going to be in. And as a professional with the situation I am going to be in, I’m going to do my job.”

Atlantic Notes: Leonard, Smith, Williams, Brand

Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard showed flashes of brilliance in his debut with the team on Saturday, finishing with 12 points, three assists and one steal in 19 minutes of action.

“I think everybody saw Kawhi, he was shaking off some rust, right?” coach Nick Nurse asked postgame, according to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. “But you can obviously see the level that he has and I think he looks like we’re all running around really fast and he gets it and everything goes into slow motion. It’s kind of a gift for guys that are as good as him and it’s neat to watch, too.”

Leonard was traded to the Raptors in July after a tumultuous end to his stint with the Spurs. He missed most of last season due to injury, with Saturday’s preseason game marking his first contest since January.

“I think it’s just going to take on-court minutes, getting the experience together, going out there and playing and getting a feel for the overall team, the overall game that he likes to play,” Kyle Lowry said of Leonard. “And the pace. We played at a really good pace tonight. It was a fun game, just good to get out there and compete against another team.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

 

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Expectations, Leonard

Kyle Lowry saw his longtime friend DeMar DeRozan shipped to the Spurs over the summer and hadn’t said much until the team’s media day earlier this week. “Our relationship is bigger than basketball,” Lowry said of his and DeRozan’s bond.

While Lowry hasn’t said anything negative about the deal, he was dodging calls and texts from the Raptors, including Masai Ujiri and coach Nick Nurse, sources tell Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. Lowry did briefly speak with Nurse after the team announced the new head coach’s hire earlier in the summer.

“I’m here to do my job,” said Lowry. “One thing about me is I’ve always been prepared to come in and try to win a championship. I’ve always been given an opportunity to go out there and do me, and come back ready to go, in shape, ready to play. My mindset never changes: Come to work for the Toronto Raptors, try to win a gold ball. That’s the same as it’s been since my first year here. That’s been my sentiment: Trying to win a gold ball here.”

Here’s more from Toronto:

  • The Raptors have a real shot at making the NBA Finals this season, Lewenberg writes in the same piece. The team hears the optimism in the media but knows there’s a lot of work to do to achieve lofty goals. “You can talk this and that – we’re a good team on paper, yeah, we have a really good team on paper,” said Jonas Valanciunas“We have all positions, we have great shooters, we’re not bad at the center position (laughs), we can do big things but how are we going to prove that? How are we going to show it on the court, how are we going to do that? That’s what matters.”
  • Kawhi Leonard has only ever played for one NBA coach—Gregg Popovich—but that will change this season now that he’s in Toronto. The 2016/17 MVP candidate appears to be optimistic about his new tactician, as Lewenberg tweets. “He’s open-minded, ready to adjust on the fly,” Leonard said of Nurse. “Just a brilliant mind, loves the game of basketball. I’ve gotta talk to him more, this was just my first practice, but we’re going to develop a good relationship.”
  • Leonard’s camp rebuffed the Raptors‘ attempts to formally introduce him following the trade, Lewenberg adds in the aforementioned piece. Toronto didn’t see it as a reflection of his desire to be with the franchise.

Raptors Notes: Leonard, Lowry, Butler, Monroe

Kawhi Leonard sidestepped questions about his falling out in San Antonio and the trade that brought him to Toronto during the Raptors’ media day this morning, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.

“I have no regrets,” Leonard responded to a question about his experience with the Spurs, “but I want to focus on this team and this journey that we have in front of us.”

Leonard was a two-time All-Star and an MVP candidate in San Antonio before suffering a quad injury that limited him to nine games last season. He was cleared by team doctors to return to action, but chose to remain sidelined on the advice of his personal physicians. The incident led to tension with the front office, clashes with teammates and derisive comments from coach Gregg Popovich.

Leonard informed the Spurs that he wouldn’t re-sign with the team once he opted out next summer, which led to his trade to Toronto. He told media members today that he’s doing fine physically.

“Right now I’m feeling great,” he said, “ready to play basketball.” (Twitter link)

There’s more from Toronto’s media day:

  • Kyle Lowry lost his best friend and backcourt partner when DeMar DeRozan was shipped to San Antonio in the Leonard trade, but he insists it won’t affect his focus for the upcoming season, saying “our relationship is bigger than basketball … that’s still my boy.” (Twitter link from Blake Murphy of The Athletic). Lowry added that he understands the business side of basketball because he has been traded before and watched the Grizzlies draft Mike Conley as his eventual replacement.
  • The Raptors have been mentioned as a possible candidate to trade for Jimmy Butler, but team president Masai Ujiri insists the team isn’t in trade talks with the Timberwolves. “I know there’s been rumors, but we haven’t had conversations,” he said. “This is our team.” (Twitter link)
  • Jonas Valanciunas is looking forward to having Greg Monroe as a teammate after playing against him for several years. The Raptors added the free agent center in August to serve as an experienced backup in the middle. “Yes, we had some battles before,” Valanciunas said. “He’s a tough guy. He never backs down, and I never back down, and now we have a chance to play together. So it’s fun.” (Twitter link)

Atlantic Rumors: DeRozan, Casey, Lowry, Fizdale, Bird

The former Raptors’ leading scorer and head coach are mad at team president Masai Ujiri, Josh Lewenberg of TSN reports. DeRozan publicly criticized Ujiri on social media after being traded to the Spurs in the Kawhi Leonard blockbuster, feeling that Ujiri misled him during a summer-league conversation. DeRozan said during USA Basketball minicamp that he’s not interested in reconciling with Ujiri. “No reason to have a relationship,” he said. “I’m done. I’m done. It’s just done for me, from my end.” Dwane Casey, now the Pistons’ head coach after getting fired by the Raptors after the season, also has lingering issues with Ujiri, according to Lewenberg. They haven’t spoken since the firing and Casey still feels plenty of resentment toward Ujiri, Lewenberg adds.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • DeRozan’s former backcourt partner, Kyle Lowry, doesn’t sound thrilled about the trade, according to Lewenberg. Lowry claims he has no relationship with Leonard and has yet to speak with him. Lowry was evasive when asked specifically about the trade. (Twitter links).
  • New Knicks coach David Fizdale met with star player Kristaps Porzingis in Latvia and appears to be building a strong relationship with the rehabbing power forward, Ian Begley of ESPN writes. Fizdale said he’s trying to keep Porzingis in the loop as he works his way back from knee surgery. “We’ve talked about his rehab. We’ve talked about how we want to play, our style of play,” Fizdale told Begley. “Talked a lot about the culture that we’re building. We want to make sure that he comes back strong and healthy and we don’t want to rush it. … I’ve tried to make sure that he’s – we’ve been in communication on every decision that we’ve made.”
  • The Celtics’ signing of Jabari Bird is an example of how two-way contracts should work, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Bird played for Boston on a two-way contract last season after getting drafted in the second round. The 6’6” swingman showed enough development to earn a spot on the 15-man roster, getting signed to a two-year contract this week.