Toronto Raptors’ Final Playoff Piece?
The long-rumored trade of Rockets starting point guard Kyle Lowry to Toronto for a first round draft pick finally got on track, it just wasn’t for the Raptors’ 2012 first round draft pick. A future first round pick plus combo guard Gary Forbes will be heading back to Houston instead, after all of the necessary paperwork has been filed, of course.
That the Rockets traded Lowry isn’t a surprise. The 26-year-old point guard made the move inevitable after he went public with comments about Head coach Kevin McHale and Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo has been very public about his search for a point guard of the future. This move does however have a significant impact on the Raptors roster heading into next season.
Lowry has two seasons remaining on his current contract at $5.75 million and $6.21 million (team option) and with only Forbes’ salary of $1.5 million heading back; the Raptors will have to make some minor moves to fit both Lowry and the pending offer sheet for Landry Fields under the salary cap.
While the Raptors committed salaries for next season place them approximately $17 million under the salary cap, the team has salary cap holds in excess of that space. However, by renouncing their rights to all of their free agents except Jerryd Bayless and Sonny Weems, the Raptors can complete the trade for Lowry now. If Bayless is re-signed at a number close to his qualifying offer before the offer sheet to Fields is issued, the Raptors should not have to complete any further moves to accommodate both transactions.
The acquisition of Lowry has bigger implications than just those related to the salary cap.
The Raptors’ starting point guard for the past five seasons, Jose Calderon has one year remaining at $10.56 million on his current contract. The 30-year-old Spanish guard makes no secret of the fact he likes living in Toronto during the season and last year the veteran made a solid impression on new Head coach Dwane Casey. A true pass-first guard, Calderon owns the Raptors record of 3,487 career assists and has been a terrific three-pointer shooter and outstanding from the free throw line, leading the NBA in 2008-2009 at 98.1 percent. Unfortunately, injuries held Calderon to 68 games played in the three seasons before the lockout and a lack of lateral foot speed and athleticism has held him back at the defensive end. It is well known that Colangelo has been trying to trade Calderon for the past two years.
Lowry earned the right to start in Houston and is coming to Toronto as the starter for next season. After four seasons as a backup, Lowry breaks out in 2009-2010 and despite an illness that cost him 19 games last year; he upped the level of his play again. In 38 starts, Lowry averaged 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.8 steals and hit 38.8 percent of his 4.8 three-point attempts and 86.5 percent of his free throw attempts during the past lockout season. While Calderon could back him up, he earns too much, is too skilled and deserves better from a team he never quit on to be relegated to a bench role at this point in his career. Calderon should be traded to a team in need of a starting point guard if at all possible.
It is very likely Colangelo is not done revamping Toronto’s roster and if necessary, Calderon could be amnestied to create the salary cap space to complete a future deal and that isn’t necessarily a bad option for the point guard. It is unlikely Calderon would clear waivers under those circumstances and could end up on a team that really needs him. Alternatively, Calderon’s expiring contract and ability to help a playoff team would make him a valuable trade piece during the season.
The acquisition of Lowry signals the coming to an end of Calderon’s tenure in Toronto, even if the eventually date remains a bit murky. Colangelo has his point guard of the present and the future. While the full promise of the five-year deal in signed back in 2008 may not have been realized, Calderon has been the ultimate team player and an all round solid citizen thru some rough seasons. If the players around him had been better, just maybe the Calderon era in Toronto would have lasted a little longer.