Let’s Not Undersell the Lowry Deal


By Norm

There was a time (up until very recently) when the Toronto Raptors couldn’t hold on to anybody. Damon Stoudamire was the first big name to leave in the early days of the franchise. Tracy McGrady was next. Then Vince Carter. Then Chris Bosh. And so on.

But today, things have changed. A few days ago, the Raptors signed their should-have-been all-star and team leader Kyle Lowry to a 4-year, $48 million dollar contract. A fantastic deal in the context of the 2014 NBA off-season.

A couple of days ago, I wrote that I thought there should have been more skepticism from beat writers concerning the Bruno Caboclo draft pick. Today, the opposite is true; from what I’ve read, the Lowry deal hasn’t been lauded enough.

There are two (related) sides that make this contract great for the Raptors. There’s the “message to the NBA” side that seemingly all of the writers chose to hit on.

Doug Smith, from the Toronto Star, thinks that the contract is “a message, from both the Raptor and from Lowry, that there is something going on [in Toronto] that’s not bad at all…and it’s something Lowry wants to be part of.”

Ditto for Michael Grange of sportsnet.ca : “…most of all, signing Lowry is a signal to their fans and to the NBA that the Raptors don’t have to quake in their sneakers any time another franchise comes sniffing around their players.”

More of the same from Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun, who writes that “coming off the season they just put together, not just a step forward but a couple of jumps forward, losing Kyle Lowry for any reason was unthinkable… [it] would have dwarfed any progress the team made this year.”

And so on and so forth; you get the gist. And listen, the writers are dead on. We’ve seen the script too many times to not understand the significance of the fact that the Raptors were able to retain their star player. Big deal for the franchise.

But there’s also an actual basketball side to this contract that hasn’t really been talked about enough. If anything, writers have been, at best, cautiously positive about the value of the contract. Eric Koreen of the National Post – who was the closest to giving a proper assessment of the contract relative to the market – calls it a “reasonable deal”.

Doug Smith’s take on the dollars? “The money might be a couple million more than they had wanted to spend but, hell, it’s only money and it’s not like Maple Leaf Sports doesn’t have any”. And of course, this gem from Michael Grange : “Time will tell if his contract will represent good value”. Yeah, thanks, just like every other contract ever signed. (I like Grange, but talk about stating the obvious).

Look, LeBron James could sign a max deal, blow both of his knees and be done. Highly unlikely, but the risk is there, just like with any contract. So let’s move past the “it’s a risk” notion quickly, because everything is a risk. Not signing him is a risk (as Grange also points out in his article).

Calling it as it is, the Kyle Lowry contract is outstanding value. According to Kevin Pelton of ESPN, Lowry projects to be the third-most impactful free agent of the current class over the next three years (using his Win Shares model), behind only LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

So Lowry projects better than Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, both of whom are reportedly thinking about taking “severe” pay cuts to still be paid more than Kyle Lowry. At this point in his career, Lowry is a more useful player than Wade (whose knees are breaking down in front of us as he played only 54 games last year). Lowry is 28, arguably just entering his prime.

Not apples to apples? Fair enough. Let’s go with an Eastern conference point guard who plays on a team that also struggled to make the playoffs in recent years. Check out these per-game numbers from 2013-2014.

Player A : 17.9 PTS, 7.4 AST, 6.4 REB, .423 FG%, .380 3PT%

Player B : 20.8 PTS, 6.1 AST, 3.6 REB, .433 FG%, .353 3PT%

Player A is Kyle Lowry. He’ll make 12 million per year for the next four years. Player B just signed a lucrative 5-year deal that will pay him 50% more per year than Lowry, at 5 years, $18 million per. He is? Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Very similar numbers, as further confirmed by their PERs (or player efficiency rating, an advance metric to measure a player’s overall contribution): identical for both players at 20.1, which was tied for 5th best among point guards last year.

I’d say there are 4 elite point guards : Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, and Derrick Rose (when healthy). After that, there’s a group of great point guards that includes Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard and, yes, Kyle Lowry. He’s right there in the mix. And yet, he’s far from overpaid. Win.

Other examples of deals we’ve seen so far this summer, with the players and their respective PERs (just so you understand the market we’re dealing with).

– Marcin Gortat 5 years x $12 million, 17.7 PER

– Avery Bradley, 4 years x $8 million, 12.8 PER.

– Jodie Meeks, 3 years x $6.33 million, 14.75

Again, every contract is a risk, but given what we know about the NBA market, Lowry’s deal is great value (as is the Patrick Patterson deal at 3 years, $18 million total). Unfortunately, that value hasn’t been properly explained.

I might still be skeptical Bruno, but make no bones about it : Masai Ujiri showed once again why he’s regarded as one of the best executives in the league with this signing.

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