Over the weekend, the Toronto Raptors were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The sweep marks the second-straight year that the Raptors have been bounced by LeBron James. Last year, the Raptors played a more competitive six-game series.
This time around, the Raptors were shorthanded as they were without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry suffered a sprained ankle during the second half of game three in Cleveland last Wednesday and missed the remainder of the series as a result.
On Monday morning — much to no one’s surprise — Lowry decided to opt-out of his current contract with the Raptors. That event was a given.
Cue the frenzy. The Philadelphia media rushed to give their takes faster than a crowd of people trying to get Black Friday sales at Best Buy.
Lowry is a hometown kid. He attended Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova University after that. With LeBron James going home to Cleveland in 2014 and loud rumors about either Kevin Durant returning home to Washington, D.C. last offseason or Blake Griffin returning to Oklahoma City this offseason, the idea of the hometown boy returning to his roots is a popular one these days.
However, Lowry to the Sixers rumors are a little different from their predecessors for a couple of reasons.
If Lowry were to return home to Philadelphia and play for the team of his youth, there would be a great deal of new energy infused into the Sixers franchise and its fan base. Before we all rush out to get custom-made 76ers Lowry jerseys, though, let’s consider a couple of things.
Did the Sixers win the lottery? According to Derek Bodner, the Sixers have a 15 percent chance of landing the number one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. That pick, presumably, would be Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington.
Bodner adds the chances of the Sixers getting Fultz is higher if you consider the rumor that the Lakers may prefer UCLA’s Lonzo Ball over Fultz. If Fultz is a member of the Sixers by the end of the NBA Draft, the rumor about Lowry coming to the team dies. No one in their right mind should prefer Lowry to Fultz. (Of course, I have been mistaken before.)
Yes, Kyle Lowry is a three-time All-Star, but he’s also 31 years old. Fultz is 18 and has drawn comparisons from “Bradley Beal but shot better in college” to a young Dwyane Wade.
This year, Lowry had his best year as a pro — averaging 22.4 ppg, 7.0 apg, 4.8 rpg, shooting 46 percent from the field and a career-best 41 percent from three. Per 100 possessions, Lowry put up 30.4/9.4/6.5. More advanced stats display his 10.1 win shares and a career-best .216 WS/48. Those are fantastic numbers. There’s no debate. Lowry is a point guard on the wrong side of 30, though.
Fultz, on the other hand, is a baby fresh 18 years old. (He’ll be 19 in May.) In one year at Washington, these are Fultz’s stats:
23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds
47.6% from the field, 41.3% from deep
Per 100 possessions: 35.7 points, 9.1 assists, 8.8 rebounds
Granted, Fultz’s numbers come as a result of a different level of competition, but he projects very well as a pro. If Fultz’s name is called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver when the Sixers pick, the Lowry to Philadelphia conversation ends. Full stop.
Here come the “what if’s”.
What if the Sixers aren’t lucky enough to land Markelle Fultz? Well, that’s trickier. Kyle Lowry and Sixers General Manager Bryan Colangelo have a history. Colangelo was the general manager in Toronto when Lowry was traded to the north for Gary Forbes and a first-round pick.
Colangelo could make a move to reunite with Lowry if he feels the Sixers can contend within the first two years of a potential four-year deal. Lowry signing with the Sixers pushes the throttle into the fully forward position in terms of whatever plan Colangelo has.
Colangelo would be doing such a thing with no firm idea about Joel Embiid’s health. Can Embiid be counted on for 50-60 games or more? The son of Jerry also would be doing such a move not knowing what is to be done with Ben Simmons. Will Simmons be the point guard? With Lowry on the roster, that becomes a maybe. Lowry’s ability to shoot the three helps, however. Will Simmons be the power forward? That would be my choice. Simmons’s quickness and improved finishing makes him a nightmare to guard on the block and in any kind of open space.
Adding Lowry to this group of Sixers means the team has opened the window. Point guards don’t get better as they age. Look at Chris Paul. Paul is 32, and got outplayed by Utah’s George Hill in the Clippers’ first-round matchup with the Jazz.
Tony Parker is 34, and he has been trending downhill since the 2013-2014 season. By the end of a four-year deal, Lowry will be in that age range. If a 34/35-year-old Kyle Lowry takes up the bulk of your cap space — the rest of which presumably would be Joel Embiid (if healthy) and Ben Simmons — that makes it difficult to continue to improve the role players and bench for a sustainable championship run.
To be fair, by the tail end of a Lowry contract, the salary cap will have jumped at least one or two more times significantly so it may not be that terrible. It’s also worth noting that LeBron James — whom you’ll have to beat to make it to the NBA Finals — will be 36 or 37 years old. That makes the task maybe a little easier. (Honestly, I think 36/37-year-old LeBron James will be as scary as 32-year old LeBron is, now, though.)
Let’s say Colangelo and the Sixers’ plan is to open that window of championship runs when LeBron James is 35 — which would be the 2020 season. By then, the Sixers will have cashed in all of their lottery tickets (i.e. their own two picks, the Lakers pick and the Kings pick). With a presumably healthy core of Embiid, Simmons, Covington, and whatever young players they’ve acquired with those picks, this team should be well stocked with youth. If that’s Colangelo’s plan, then kudos for your forward thinking, Bryan. I’ll have more faith in your ability to choose a team direction.
Should the Sixers sign Lowry this off-season? It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The effects of such a signing (positive and negative) need to be addressed. A Sixers “big three” of Lowry, Simmons, and a healthy Embiid will take you places. Barring more injury setbacks, that’s a nice core of a championship contender depending on additional pieces added.
However, signing Lowry also means the Sixers plan to get much better real fast. But if it does not work out, then the Sixers would be no better off than the Raptors are right now — in no man’s land continuing to watch LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers pass them by.