NEW YORK — It sounded like the ending to a Hall of Fame speech.
A perfect summation of his career.
In reality, Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was simply talking about being one of the most productive players in the NBA over the past decade.
During the 2010s, only six players had a higher VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) than Lowry, the engine behind Toronto’s turnaround as a franchise: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul.
Pretty impressive company.
And yet …
“No one ever looks at me like that,” Lowry told Yahoo Sports from the team’s Manhattan hotel on Saturday. “I guess it’s who I am. I’m not flashy. I’m not fancy. I’m not 6-foot-8.
“I’m a f---ing 6-foot guard that gets it done and wins. I guess some people don’t like that all the time, but a lot of people do respect it.”
Specifically, his peers. Tristan Thompson paid No. 7 the highest of compliments at the start of the New Year.
“Kyle Lowry’s a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said. “He’s a five-time All-Star, Olympic gold medalist. He’s their backbone. He keeps the ship running and he’s playing at a high level. Kyle’s a bulldog, he’s going to compete every night. That’s why his teammates love him.”
For what it’s worth, basketball-reference.com projects that Lowry has a 68.3 percent chance of getting inducted.
“It’s awesome. It’s really cool,” Lowry said. “To hear that from a guy like Tristan, who has won a championship and who I’ve battled against for years, it’s awesome. I don’t look into it and feed into it. But it’s cool to appreciate it. Thank you for saying that. I don’t do it for that, but I appreciate it.”
At 33, Lowry doesn’t plan on contemplating his potential place in Springfield until his career ends. But that doesn’t mean others can’t, including his coach, Nick Nurse.
“I just think he’s the heart and soul of this franchise,” Nurse told Yahoo Sports. “You just keep changing everything around him and he keeps pumping out wins.
“I think you look at it and he’s probably got another All-Star [appearance] coming. He’s got a crack at maybe another gold medal coming [in 2020]. You’re talking about some pretty lofty things right there, and then the winning percentage here in Toronto has been really good, right? So I don’t know, but I think he’s going to make a case.”
Toronto’s trajectory changed in 2013-14, when Rudy Gay was traded and Lowry appeared headed to the New York Knicks. But that deal never happened, and Lowry assumed the role of scorer and leader next to his best friend, DeMar DeRozan. The duo reset the culture and tone for the formerly woebegone franchise.
Over the past six seasons, the Raptors have averaged 53.5 wins and won five Atlantic Division titles. A blockbuster trade that sent DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard helped Toronto get over the top and secure its first championship in franchise history last season.
The Raptors were supposed to be a borderline playoff team with Leonard departing for Los Angeles in free agency, but have kicked off 2019-20 by going 24-12 despite a roster that has been decimated by injuries.
“Some people wrote us off, but we were a good team before we got Kawhi,” Lowry said before scoring 16 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter Saturday of what became a blowout victory over the Brooklyn Nets. “People are going to have opinions. But ‘next man up,’ that’s our mentality. At the end of the day when I went down [missing 11 games due to a broken thumb] and Serge [Ibaka] went down, these guys stepped up. Ever since I’ve been here we’ve always had that mentality like you gotta play no matter what the circumstances.”
From age 27 to 33, Lowry has averaged 18.4 points, 7.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds.
But he’s never been part of a Big Three in an era dominated by them.
“No, I was never invited,” Lowry joked. “My window was my window, my path was my path. Toronto was always the best situation for me and the place I wanted to be. We made some tough moves. We traded DeMar, but it all happened in the grand scheme of winning a championship. It sucks to lose your best friend, but it’s a business. It is what it is. It worked out for our organization and our team and the players that we had here.”
Lowry has managed to stick with the Raptors despite his name seemingly always being bandied about in trade talks. In 2013, it was the Knicks. Last year, it was Memphis. This year, if Toronto somehow elects to pivot, it could be Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia or one of the L.A. teams.
“All they had to do was say, ‘Yes,’” said Lowry, who signed a one-year, $30 million extension with the Raptors in October, of all the seemingly close calls.
“But that’s why I say everything happens for a reason. You can’t control everything. You just have to control what you can control, and that’s being a better basketball player, person, man, everything. Rumors are going to happen all the time. But rumors are rumors until they happen.
“It would be awesome to retire as a Raptor. But I can’t control that. And that’s not to say they wouldn’t do it or I wouldn’t do it, it’s just the direction may change. The NBA changes. Teams change. Players change. Situations change. Goals change. Everything changes.”
Lowry’s No. 1 goal, however, remains the same. In the biggest game of his life, he had one of the best games of his career, scoring 26 points and dishing out 10 assists as the Raptors beat the Warriors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, giving the 14-year veteran his first title. Yet he’s far from satisfied with just that.
“They can never take that away from me,” Lowry said. “I got a ring to show for it. But my goal is not to just be happy with one. I want more. I want to win a championship every year I play basketball. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”
One example of that: Lowry currently leads the league in minutes per game at 38.1.
“I don’t think we have much choice,” Nurse said.
“I don’t know about all that,” Lowry jokingly responded when asked about his minutes. “But I gotta find a way to do whatever it takes to help my team win. And once everyone comes back [from injury], I think things will change a lot.”
On Dec. 22, he scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to help the Raptors complete a remarkable comeback after they trailed by as many as 30 to Dallas. “It ended up being one of the funnest and craziest games I’ve been apart of,” Lowry said. “Top-five quarter for me in my life right there.”
Lowry doesn’t know how many more years he’d like to play even though he has pondered a possible future that includes being part of an ownership group some day.
It has been quite a decade for No. 7.
It started with his basketball career at a crossroads in Houston before a trade to Toronto changed everything.
And now, Kyle Lowry has a shot at the Hall of Fame.
“I have two kids now, and I think that helped me grow and mature as a person,” Lowry said. “And I just think me getting older, getting traded, being in one place for eight years now kind of settled me in a situation where I knew I was going to be.
“I didn’t know I’d be there for the long-haul. I just kept working. And I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to settle. I’m never satisfied.”
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