With mere seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s series finale against the Brooklyn Nets, PG Kyle Lowry briefly held the hopes of the Toronto Raptors‘ entire season in his hands while basketball fans throughout Canada held their collective breath in anticipation.
However, the book was slammed shut on arguably the most memorable season in franchise history. Even in defeat, however, the Raptors will head into their well deserved summer vacation with more promise than many of their fellow first-round failures.
Whether fans were strong enough to admit it or not, we knew that Toronto wasn’t going to contend for an NBA championship in 2014. Even at its peak, this season’s unexpected turnaround was rightfully met with tempered expectations, and it’s now time for the Raptors to build on the many lessons learned from an effort that’s finally pointed this team in the right direction.
For Toronto’s front office, the focus has immediately turned towards retaining the services of Lowry, who becomes a free agent on July 1, and re-signing head coach Dwane Casey, who didn’t have a contact past the end of this season until Monday. While Toronto is already reported to have agreed in principal to a three-year deal with Casey, holding on to one of the league’s most hotly-pursued point guards won’t be as easy. Without Lowry’s leadership, it’s no secret that the Raptors just wouldn’t be the same.
Less than 24 hours after nearly making the most important basket in team history, Lowry addressed the media on Monday morning at the Air Canada Center to field a variety of questions with the focus centering on the near future of both himself as well as Toronto’s head coach.
Fortunately for the Raptors, outside of expressing his confidence in Casey’s return, the fiery point guard also acknowledged that this past season was the best of his career, and Lowry’s unassuming attitude couldn’t hide his own optimism for his role with the Raptors going forward.
But keeping Lowry in Canada won’t be the only concern on the mind of GM Masai Ujiri this summer. The upcoming draft could easily be the busiest day of Toronto’s offseason because opportunities to improve even without a top pick should be plentiful. Far from perfect, this team gave basketball fans throughout the city a reason to hope that things were only going to get better in the future, and for the first time in far too many years, the Raptors ended the year with a level of league-wide respect that they’ve never had before.
For that alone, they deserve to hold their heads high.