In his first video call with reporters since the Toronto Raptors were eliminated in the playoffs in September, Kyle Lowry wasted no time Thursday throwing playful jabs.
Asked how he’s settling into the team’s temporary home in Tampa Bay for the new NBA season, the Raptors star point guard raved about the staff who have prepared their facilities and made the club feel welcome in Florida.
“And it’s even better because you guys aren’t here,” he teased media on the Zoom call, flashing a mischievous grin.
Indeed the usual reporters are not in Tampa as the veteran readies for his 15th NBA season – his ninth as a Raptor. The Toronto throng won’t surround him in a hefty media scrum after every game, as they did in the prepandemic days, packed inside the Scotiabank Arena locker room.
The longest-tenured player on Toronto’s roster, Lowry will turn 35 in March. He is entering the final year of his deal but said he hasn’t spoken to the club about an extension.
“Of course at some point the conversation will happen,” Lowry said after the team’s first practice in its temporary stadium, Amalie Arena. “Right now it’s all about just getting ourselves going to start the season, to get going here in Tampa.”
The Philadelphia native averaged 36.2 minutes while playing in 58 of Toronto’s 72 regular-season games last season, along with 19.4 points, five rebounds, and 7.5 assists. He also led the league by drawing 34 charges, plus eight more in the playoffs.
In five of Toronto’s 11 playoff games, Lowry played more than 40 minutes – including a 53-minute load in one gruelling overtime game.
The Raptors aim to manage his minutes carefully. After a shortened off-season, they will play 72 regular-season games in about 145 days. Lowry stayed in Tampa rather than make the trip to Charlotte, N.C., for preseason games Saturday and Monday.
“He’s in tremendous shape,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “You’re riding that line of getting in shape and not overdoing it early on. Then, as the games start clicking off, there’ll certainly be a little playing-time management as well.”
Lowry said he has no ill will toward Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, the two championship-team centres the Raptors lost in free agency.
“I’m always happy for any of my teammates when they get paid and get an opportunity to provide for their families and to go where they want to go and be happy,” Lowry said. “Nothing changes when it comes to the stance of relationship with those guys. Those guys are always going to be my brothers.”
Lowry will share leadership duties with Fred VanVleet. The two point guards have grown fond of their new rookie backup, Malachi Flynn, the team’s recent 29th overall draft pick.
“I got a chance to work out with him before the draft and I liked him. He’s a good kid. When it comes to similarities with Fred, he has the [kind of] talent that Fred has,” Lowry said of Flynn. “He has an opportunity to be good. He is going to be counted on to be the backup point guard and when myself or Freddy isn’t on the floor. So he has a chance to grow really quick.”
As the season opens Dec. 23, Lowry and VanVleet will need to quickly find chemistry with Toronto’s new centres, who will provide the screens, especially the likely starter, Australian Aron Baynes.
“My goal is to make sure he has the best year that he’s had in his career,” Lowry said of Baynes. “This is a guy that’s physical and he wants to hit people, but he also wants to learn and win.”
As for playing during a pandemic, Lowry said he fully expects there will be positive tests, and dealing with that will become a way of life.
“It’s going to be a tough year but we got some of the best people in the world working with us, helping us,” Lowry said. “We’re complying at a high level – all players, we’re all complying 100 per cent.”
So much is new – many new teammates, an interim home city, a pop-up practice facility and arena. Lowry shrugged off any suggestion of discomfort.
“I’m comfortable wherever I am. Nothing makes me uncomfortable. I’m always going to be comfortable in my own skin, in my own situations,” he said. “I’m always going to be ready to go. I’m always going to be good.”