For the second-straight season, the Toronto Raptors were knocked out of the playoffs by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers

Now, the front office has some decisions to make. All-Star guard Kyle Lowry has a player-option for the 2017-18 season, but it’s worth only $12 million. It’s safe to say he’s going to decline it. With the rising salary cap, players of his caliber are getting hefty deals, and Lowry is certainly a candidate for a max contract. Additionally, Serge Ibaka hits the market, along with PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson. Toronto is going to do everything in their power to retain Lowry over the other three. It’s nothing against the others, but he’s, by far, the best of the four.

However, financial troubles may limit what Toronto can do. Without Lowry’s option, they’re still guaranteed almost $80 million in salary, with most of it going to DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. If they splurge on their All-NBA guard, they’ll be strapped for cash to spend on accompanying pieces, and that makes a deep playoff run almost impossible.

This Raptors team was more talented than last season. With Ibaka and Tucker, Toronto had another option on offense and a solid defender who could match up with LeBron during the postseason if they met up. Well, they did. And it didn’t work. Sunday night saw the Cavaliers sweep the Raptors and, despite Lowry not playing in the final two games, his presence wouldn’t have helped much.

Also Read: We Almost Forgot How Much The Raptors Need Kyle Lowry

Lowry’s last four regular seasons have been sensational, and his evolution into a top-tier point guard is irrefutable. He plays both sides of the floor with great effectiveness and is one of the few point guards who does. On top of that, he’s a great leader and isn’t afraid of the big moment. Lowry digs in and bothers opposing ball handlers and is a good enough scorer to create buckets on the other end. It helps to play alongside another All-Star, but the attention that Lowry demands helps open up the floor for his backcourt mate.

He’s not the flashiest by any means, but he gets the job done night in and night out. Since 2013-14, Lowry’s averaged 19.7 points on 43.1 percent shooting and 6.9 assists. Those numbers make him one of eight players to maintain that line during that stretch, according to Basketball Reference. This past regular season significantly added to those metrics, and Lowry boasted a career-high 22.4 points while shooting 46.4 percent overall. He also had a clip of 41.2 percent from three and was one of seven players to average at least three makes from deep a night.

Toronto was, obviously, much better with him on the floor, and Lowry’s net rating was plus-8.6 per 100 possessions.

As great as he played in the from November to April, the playoffs have historically been Lowry’s Achilles heel. Heading into this year, his numbers tanked in the postseason. In 32.3 minutes, Lowry was scoring less than 15 points a night (14.7) while dishing out just 4.6 dimes and shooting under 40 percent from the field (38.3).

Despite missing a couple of games, one could argue that this was the best we’ve ever seen Lowry play in the postseason. His scoring numbers weren’t earth-shattering (15.1), but he continued to make plays for others and didn’t let his defense suffer. Moreover, he knocked down shots. It’s a rarity to see the Raptors play efficient offense in the playoffs, but Lowry was able to slice through defenses and finished with a modest clip of 46.2 percent overall — the highest he’s ever shot in the postseason by nearly six percentage points.

Also Read: The Spurs Are In Trouble Without Tony Parker

Because of Toronto’s inability to dethrone the Cavaliers, a report from free agent journalist Marc Stein indicated that Lowry would be giving “legit thought” to going out West. It’s a little bizarre, but it could work. Initial thoughts are maybe to the San Antonio Spurs or Houston Rockets, which would be frightening for the conference.

Lowry could easily get four or five years on a deal despite being 31. It’ll be risky, but he’s got a couple more solid years in him and, even if regresses to 15 points and six dimes, that’ll suffice for most teams.

Personally, I’d like to see him on the Rockets, and they’re going to be under the salary cap for the next couple of seasons. If you think about it, Lowry is like Patrick Beverley 2.0. Both guys shoot the three at a high rate, and they’re both gritty, hard-nosed defenders. Lowry would be an upgrade over Beverley because he’s a legit playmaker at point guard and could serve the role as the go-to guy for the second unit. Plus, they can throw him on the floor late in the fourth and give James Harden another deadeye shooter who can rip the hearts out of opponents. Lowry doesn’t turn the Rockets into a superteam, but he solidifies their legitimacy as contenders and separates Houston, San Antonio and Golden State from the rest of the conference.

Landing with the Spurs would be more beneficial for Lowry’s longevity than anything else. Gregg Popovich loves going to his bench, and only LeBron, Jimmy Butler and Harden have averaged more minutes a game than Lowry since 2014. The system would be infinitely different from Houston, but the Spurs would become such a lethal team offensively while not sacrificing defense at all — and that’s scary. Lowry could control the tempo as he pleases and he’d be fine playing in the halfcourt because the Raptors were never a team to run up and down. He’d be playing off Kawhi Leonard, and that would open the floor even more, and Leonard is only going to get better.

Also Read: LeBron James Has No Respect For the Raptors

Regardless of where he plays, Lowry still has three or four years where he’d be a legitimate option on a potential champion. If he chooses wisely, we’re going to see some noise generated out West and maybe, just maybe, Golden State will be unseated from their perch.

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