His bags were packed.
When you tell the story of the greatest era in franchise history, don’t forget the greatest Raptor in franchise history had his bags packed, ready to be traded to New York in 2013. Kyle Lowry was almost just another afterthought on the all-time franchise roster, a footnote like Mark Jackson, Chauncey Billups and Kenny Anderson.
Instead, James Dolan balked at making another deal with Masai Ujiri. Lowry stayed. The Raptors won an Atlantic Division title and returned to the playoffs. They suffered a series of disappointments. Game 7 at the buzzer against the Nets. A sweep by Paul Pierce’s Washington Wizards. LeBron James, again and again. The final time, in 2018, felt like the end. And it was, in a way. DeMar DeRozan was traded for Kawhi Leonard, and Lowry was not thrilled to lose his best friend.
The championship season is remembered for many memorable moments, so maybe we already forget the uncertainty during the first half of the season. Lowry was not happy with the team, made it clear in an ESPN interview, and who knows how close he was to being traded. He stayed, and I can’t remember any moment more than the Lowry chants which rained down at Air Canada Centre when the Raptors celebrated their first Finals appearance after Game 6 against Milwaukee. It felt like the first time we truly appreciated Lowry properly.
He bookended the team’s Game 6 championship-clinching win over the Golden State Warriors, scoring the first 11 points, and then handed out the biggest assist of the night, grabbing Ujiri from the on-court incident he had gotten into after the buzzer for an embrace. The 2019 championship might have validated the Leonard trade, but for me, it'll always be the championship that cemented Lowry’s career.
It’s no surprise then to see him still playing at this level as he turns 35. The only good part about the trade rumours surrounding him is seeing Lowry recognized as the game-changing player he has been for years. It doesn't appear he will be moved at the trade deadline, but any team adding Lowry would instantly become an actual contender.
Last week, Lowry addressed the rumours on Instagram and told reporters he will retire as a Raptor, even if it’s a one-day contract. Perhaps all of this reminiscing will prove premature, and the Raptors bring back their starting point guard to finish his career in Toronto. If so, great. I’m more than happy to have written this without having to absorb the emotional gut-punch that comes after.
If this summer is the farewell, I will lament Lowry spending his final season in a Raptor uniform in Tampa, without his signature starting intro routine and the Lowry chants raining down at Scotiabank Arena. Of course, that is just the selfish sports fan talking in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ll also be happy for Lowry because it will mean he’s happy, not because he’s moving on but because it's the next part of his journey in an already incredible career. Eras end, and people come and go, in sports and in life. When I try to think of Lowry's career with the Raptors in one word, I keep coming back to this: complete.
Vince Carter left a huge what-if on the franchise, the potential of so much more unfulfilled. Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh started their careers here and cemented them somewhere else. DeRozan shaped this franchise and brought the entire city together, but he didn’t get to choose his ending here. Leonard lifted the team to a championship level and didn’t even give the fanbase a summer to contemplate a dynasty. Lowry’s tenure in Toronto is different from all of them. It is complete.
The bags might be packed again this summer, and Lowry might head out the door this time.
We’re all just lucky it didn’t happen eight years ago.
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