At some point he will have to return to play at the Scotiabank Arena under the banner of the championship he helped win, against teammates and coaches he won it with and in front of fans who embraced him and ultimately worshiped for nine seasons, and he’s not sure he’ll be able to handle it.
“To be honest, I’m not looking forward to this first game coming back because I know there will be a tribute and I know I’m going to cry; I’m not looking forward to it, ”Lowry said in his first game on Friday. media availability since signing a three-year, $ 90 million contract to join the Miami Heat in free agency. “I remember my stay there like at home. It will really always be at home. The fans, the friends I have made, the people I have met throughout my stay, the relationships I have built, the communities I have helped and the people I have helped in the communities, it’s hard to put that into perspective of a sentence or paragraph type.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of things. When I retire I will go back and really think about everything I have done in this place. It’s too much to put into words. “
But for all the Raptors and Toronto that have become meaningful to Lowry and all he has yet to offer on the court – the Heat see him as the difference maker on a roster they expect to contend for an NBA title. – there was a sense of the inevitability of Lowry’s departure, on both sides.
Unlike other occasions when the beloved Raptors evolved into free agency or – in DeMar DeRozan’s case – were traded, this was an amicable separation.
Lowry said the writing was on the wall as the grueling 2020-21 season unfolded.
“I think throughout the season myself and [Raptors president Masai Ujiri], we had good conversations. … He was very open with me and I was very open with him. We continued to keep a very open dialogue no matter what was going on, ”Lowry said. “I think the direction Toronto is going is that they want to give Freddie opportunities. [VanVleet], Pascale [Siakam], OG [Anunoby], some young guys, the young draft picks they have to see what they can do. They have great basic pieces. I mentioned it: they are in good hands and in great shape. …
“It was a situation for me where it was an opportunity to do something different to put myself in a place for my family and kids to grow up and be happy. It’s time to turn the page of the book. “
The Raptors were getting younger, trying to add to what they identified as an existing core, and re-signing a 35-year-old playmaker when they already had VanVleet under contract and drafted Malachi Flynn didn’t fit the plan.
“You probably have to go back to the second half of our season, you could probably see the direction the team was going and jump in the draft to get the fourth pick, I think philosophically getting young has become kind of a more desirable path. , ”Said Raptors general manager Bobby Webster.
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Lowry, at least on a personal level.
“Emotionally, it’s tough,” Webster said. “He’s a kid who grew up here, who came before me, I think he was in a lot of ways, I think he was the last player on the list when we came in, in 2013. I think emotionally there’s a ton of good feelings and affection and all of that stuff. “
Lowry may view his return to Toronto with the Heat with some trepidation, but he’s excited to start a new chapter in his remarkable career with a franchise that seems to match his values: a total commitment to winning.
” I’m excited. I’m really excited, ”Lowry said. “I’m not a mad, fiery screaming guy, except when I’m on the pitch [but] I am really excited for the opportunity. I don’t want to talk too much about it. I just want to be there at a high level and try to bring this organization to a level where it once was and come back to the final where it was a year ago and win championships. “
The Raptors aim to do the same – certainly, the announcement that Ujiri was going to stay with the team came with a clearly stated goal of winning. But their path there is not as straightforward, even though they are building on the strengths of their young veterans all under contract for at least the next three seasons.
“We think we have a pretty good foundation in place,” said Webster. “Players who have been with the organization for a while. Players who have been under contract for several years, so there isn’t a ton of immediate pressure or immediate decision making. And we are excited about the young people. I think having three picks in this year’s draft and the fact that some of the younger players are leaving the bench, … we haven’t completely replenished the closet, but I think that’s the direction we are heading in. let’s lead. “
Part of that plan was to acquire Heat rookie big man Precious Achiuwa and veteran point guard Goran Dragic as part of the signing-and-trade deal that saw Lowry make it to the Heat even if Miami passed the salary cap.
Achiuwa is 22 and he’s really someone the Raptors were aiming for in the 2020 Draft before the Heat took him 20th overall. Dragic is clearly a potential business asset the Raptors can use to add another young prospect to draft capital as the season unfolds.
“Precious is a huge part of this deal for us,” said Webster. “We really liked him last year in the draft so I think it was, for us, a huge blow in the direction of a young player that we love and who matches us. At the same time we had Goran, he’s a legend, from that perspective he always plays at a high level, he provides a lot of leadership and veteran stability in a team, so these are the two players we have. loved. “
But the player they and almost everyone associated with the Raptors loved had to go for that to happen.
Don’t shed tears for Lowry though. When he was heading into free agency for the very last time, probably, he said his priorities were money, tenure and a chance to win another title. At 35 and on the eve of his 16th season, he has all three.
« Son [was] a tough decision and it’s really scary for me because I sat down and watched it [but] having the opportunity to be wanted was cool, ”said Lowry. “Because I put myself in a position to show people that I’m a winner and whatever happens I’m going to try to help a team win. And being wanted is always a great feeling, no matter what the situation in life. To be wanted is a good feeling. “