Lowry, Ibaka to test free agency as Raptors face busy summer
TORONTO (AP) — After another unsuccessful attempt at taking down LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors face a summer of change.
Kyle Lowry will opt out of the final year of his contract to test free agency. Forwards Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, acquired at the trade deadline to beef up Toronto’s front line, are free agents. So is forward Patrick Patterson. Will the Raptors retain their stars and reload for another run at James? Or is Toronto headed toward a teardown?
Swept out of the second round of the playoffs by James and the defending champion Cavaliers a day earlier, the Raptors weren’t offering many answers about their future Monday as they met for exit interviews and end-of-season physicals.
The only clear-cut decision came from Lowry, who confirmed he will decline a $12 million option for the final season of the four-year, $48 million contract he signed in July 2014.
As for what he’s looking for in free agency, Lowry said the chance at a championship is top of his list.
“I want a ring,” he said. “That’s all that drives me. I want to just get better, I want to have fun, I want to win a ring. I want to make sure my family is happy. That’s all I’ve thought about right now.”
Lowry averaged career bests of 22.4 points, 7.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game this season but was limited to 60 games because of a right wrist injury that required surgery in February. After suffering a sprained left ankle in Game 2 against the Cavaliers, he was unable to play in the final two games of the series.
With James better than ever and the Cavaliers firing 3-pointers from all over, Toronto lost to Cleveland for the second straight postseason. James and the Cavs beat the Raptors in six games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Guard DeMar DeRozan, who signed a five-year, $135 million deal to stay with Toronto last summer, said he feels the Raptors are close to competing for a conference title. Still, DeRozan acknowledged it won’t be easy to close the gap on Cleveland.
“It’s kind of like being in traffic,” DeRozan said. “You’ve got to go two blocks, but if there’s traffic, it’ll take you an hour to get somewhere that’s two minutes away.”
Lowry, who will be a free agent for the third time, called the experience an emotional roller coaster.
“It’s fun, but it’s a little bit stressful,” Lowry said. “You’re making a franchise-altering decision, period.”
The 11-year veteran, now 31, said his age should not be an issue with potential suitors.
“People say, ‘Oh, you’re over 30,'” Lowry said. “Look at the technology. Dieting, training, everything has changed. The guy we just lost to (James), he’s 32 years old, he’s still playing at a 25-year-old pace.”
While he still believes his body is young, Lowry said he’s matured over his five seasons with the Raptors.
“I understand that every day I have to be a leader on and off the court,” he said. “I feel I’ve grown a lot here.”
Ibaka, 27, said he enjoyed his time in Toronto after coming over in a Feb. 14 trade with Orlando.
“I like the style of the team, the way they play, the locker room,” Ibaka said. “Those guys, they’re great, great guys. Since I got here, everything was easier, and I had fun with them.”
A rim protector who can shoot and defend on the perimeter, Ibaka fits the 3-point friendly style currently employed by many of the league’s top contenders. Toronto has tended to rely more on DeRozan’s mid-range game, but coach Dwane Casey said the Raptors need to evolve.
“There’s not a player on our roster that should not work on their 3-point shot if they want to get more time,” Casey said. “That’s going to be a huge part of our offense going forward. The day of 30 and 40 attempts is going to be the norm here pretty soon.”
DeRozan also said improved shooting will be an essential ingredient in Toronto’s offseason plans.
“The 3-point line is definitely deadly now and the more shooters you have on your team, the deadlier you can be,” he said.