Would a Native Son Quicken the Process?
The 76ers are showing interest in bringing free agent Kyle Lowry home to Philly in a move that would shift the landscape of the Eastern Conference. Does the on-court fit match the feel good story off it?
Kyle Lowry is a 3x All-Star with the Toronto Raptors and spearheaded their most successful run in franchise history highlighted by their 2016 trip to the Conference Finals. Toronto was swept by Cleveland in the conference semis as Lowry watched games 3 & 4 from the sideline with an ankle injury and face an offseason of uncertainty surrounded by their star point guard opting to become a free agent. General Manager Masai Ujiri was adamant in stating he wants the guard back in Toronto, but will face stiff competition for Lowry’s services.
Despite some strong arguments for heading to the Western Conference, his best fit, on and off-court, is his old stopping grounds in the city of Brotherly Love. San Antonio has a glaring hole at the point guard position with Tony Parker ruled out for the playoffs and Patty Mills a free agent at season’s end (Dejounte Murray would like a word). But would signing 31- year old Lowry solve their problems against Golden State? The Spurs already have one past-their-prime free agent signing on the books with LaMarcus Aldridge and need to get younger across the board. This matchup makes sense on paper, but adding Lowry doesn’t solve their aged frontcourt problems.
The Denver scenario is intriguing to me. The Nuggets were an improved team that just missed out on the playoffs with Jameer Nelson logging the majority of minutes at point guard. Lowry would be the unquestioned leader of the team with an impressive array of young talent to work with in Nikola Jokic, Jamaal Murray, and Gary Harris to name a few. This team would be wildly entertaining and one of the best passing teams in the league, but why would he choose a Denver team that’s three or four years away from being taken seriously?
Which leads me to his hometown 76ers. This team has convinced fans to “Trust the Process” as they floundered to win totals of 19, 18, and 10 from 2013–2016. But this season saw a sign of things coming together as they won 28 games and saw the foundation of a perennial playoff team in the near future. Highlighted by Joel Embiid’s brief 31 game cameo (20.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG on 25.4 MPG) and Dario Saric’s point forward potential, the 76ers have a frontcourt that is unmatched in talent, versatility, and youth in the NBA as number 1 pick Ben Simmons comes to the fold after missing his rookie season with a foot injury. They have 52% odds of claiming two top-5 picks if the Lakers fall out of the top 3 in next week’s lottery to add to their riches of young talent (Malik Monk, please).
So with all this momentum behind the Process and building for the future, why would they sign a 31-year old point guard to a lucrative contract? First off, they have the cap room to make this offer. The 76ers are on the books for only $35 million for next season in contracts. This number dives to $8 million in 2018 followed by $0 in 2019. To say they have the cap space to absorb this hit is an understatement. They could offer Lowry the max and have room to dive into the free agent pool to fill out the roster (Andre Iguodala on a 1-year reunion?). As long as Philly keeps the contracts under 2 years, they will preserve their cap flexibility and space when their young players start to hit restricted free agency.
The fit on the court is the enticing aspect of this partnership. The 76ers desperately need shooting and defense on the perimeter. Lowry checks both those boxes alone. He’s coming off a career year from deep (.411% per NBA.com) and equaled that clip on catch-and-shoot 3s. This allows him to play off the ball when Simmons or Saric take their share at the point. I haven’t even discussed the threat a Lowry-Embiid pick-and-roll poses. Lowry has the ability to pull up off the dribble if defenders sag or simply dump it to The Process himself if they opt to switch the screen and watch him go to work. This team would jump into the top-half in PPG after finishing 25th this season. Their defense wasn’t much better allowing 108.1 PPG (24th in NBA). Robert Covington works hard on the wing, but this team is thrashed regardless of his effort when Embiid is sidelined. Lowry isn’t a lockdown defender, but would bring positional awareness and communication to the table.
This hypothetical team would have to stay healthy, of course. Embiid has played in 31 out of a possible 246 games and Simmons just missed his rookie season. Lowry himself appeared in 3 games after the All-Star game with a wrist injury. His season ended on the bench as well, missing the final two playoffs games after injuring his ankle in game 2 of the conference semis. There’s a chance this injury is reasoning for coming back to Toronto and running it back one more time.
Signing a 2-year $54 million deal with a player option on year 2 to stay in Toronto would be conceivable. This would allow him to see how the 76ers develop, or even stay healthy for a season, before committing to them in a multi-year deal. Maybe Denver takes another step next year and emerge as a team one piece away from serious contention so they go after him again. But if healthy, Philly is the best fit on and off the court for Lowry. A starting five of Lowry- Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot-Simmons-Saric-Embiid has at least 4 people capable of creating something off the dribble. The mutual interest is merely interest at this point, but it’s fair to see why both sides are considering this move.