The 2017 NBA Free Agency is set to begin at midnight tonight, with 3x all-star Kyle Lowry one of the biggest names exploring the market. There have been constant rumours swirling of teams interested in his services along with conflicting reports by the media. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Sun indicated last week that Lowry had “zero interest” in returning to Toronto after months of dissatisfaction with the Raptors. Lowry then countered with a tweet “I don’t do this ever but: Don’t believe what you hear!! Especially if it didn’t come from me, and that bs FOR SURE didn’t come from me..GN”. Raptors President Masai Ujiri then stated the next day that “He’s been a part of our organization, and he says he wants to come back,”. Fellow all-star teammate and good friend DeMar DeRozan also weighed in on the situation, indicating he won’t openly recruit Lowry and will respect his decision “as long as he tells me and I don’t have to read it, I’m completely fine with it”. DeRozan took the same approach when Lowry hit free agency in 2014. If the Raptors do in fact retain Lowry, they will look to add more pieces in hopes of making a title run. However, if Lowry does choose to leave, the Raptors chances of taking down the Eastern Conference powerhouse Cavaliers would go from slim to none. At this point, it might be in the best interest of the franchise to re-build with a younger core.

The truth of the matter is that fans can read all the reports that they want, however, nothing will be official until Lowry actually makes a decision during free agency. While it is clear that the Raptors want him back, they might be hesitant to offer a 5 year max contract to a 31 year old. Western Conference contenders in need of a scoring point guard like the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Minnesota Timberwolves are set to potentially make offers to Kyle Lowry. Jimmy Butler, who was recently acquired by Minnesota to play alongside rising stars Andrew Wiggins & Karl-Anthony Towns, has already started recruiting free agents in hopes of making the Timberwolves even better competitors. Lowry’s hometown Philadelphia 76ers are likely no longer in the mix after drafting promising rookie point guard Markelle Fultz 1st overall.

Lowry has had to put up with a decent amount of criticism amidst all the reports. Comments on social media are ranging from “Good, you’re useless in the playoffs anyways” to “We’re a better team without you anyways”. This is not fair for Lowry who has given it his all since arriving to Toronto via trade back in 2012. When the Raptors traded away Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay back in 2013, Lowry along with DeRozan knew it was time to take bigger ownership. Lowry is not the type of point guard who puts up highlight reels like a Russell Westbrook or record breaking stats like a Steph Curry. It was his hustle, leadership, and no fear of the moment that helped turn the Raptors franchise around. He was the vocal leader, the man diving for all the loose balls, the man taking the painful charges, and the last man leaving the arena on several nights. He was one of the main reasons the #WeTheNorth campaign was launched and the popularity of basketball was surging in Canada. Lowry finished the 2013-2014 campaign with a career high 17.8 points per game while leading the Raptors to a franchise best 48-34 record and only their second division title in franchise history.

He instantly became one of the hottest free agents hitting the market, attracting interest from the Miami Heat (the 4x Defending Eastern Conference Champions at the time led by LeBron James) and his former-team Houston Rockets (a rising team led by James Harden). Many analysts predicted Lowry abandoning the Raptors like former franchise players Vince Carter & Chris Bosh. Lowry then shut it all down, signing a 4 year extension with the intention of finishing some unfinished business.

Since signing the extension, Lowry has made the all-star team each season and increased his scoring averages continuously (last season averaging 22.4 points). The 2015-2016 season was his most successful, making the All-NBA Third Team and helping the Raptors reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Lowry had noticeably struggled in the first round against the Indiana Pacers but helped the Raptors win 2 games against the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers, twice scoring 35 points in the series.

He has given everything to the franchise. However, the harsh reality is that the NBA remains a very top heavy league so many teams are choosing to build for the future in the mean time. The Raptors were just 2 wins away from the NBA Finals in 2016 but got swept in the 2nd of the 2017 playoffs, losing two straight times to the King James led Cavaliers. This current roster simply does not have a chance against Cleveland, it’s the ugly truth.

Whether he stays or goes, Lowry has had a great 5 year run with the Toronto Raptors. His leadership has helped the Raptors have 4 straight winning seasons, 3 division titles, and finally some playoff series wins. The same can’t be said by any past player of the Raptors, regardless of their numbers or highlight tapes. If Lowry stays, management should try and make some big moves to improve and go all-in. If he goes, Raptor fans should still appreciate everything he has done for Canada’s only franchise. The last thing he deserves if his next game at the Air Canada Center is in a different team’s jersey is to be boo’d when his name is announced or when he touches the ball.