Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers' Isaac Okor (35) in first half NBA basketball action in Cleveland, Sunday, March 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ron Schwane

Toronto Raptors keep Kyle Lowry as NBA trade deadline passes

Toronto Raptors keep Kyle Lowry as NBA trade deadline passes

TORONTO — After an emotional game against Denver that felt like Kyle Lowry’s curtain call, then trade talk that sounded like he was on the cusp of leaving, Toronto Raptors fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The six-time all-star will remain a Raptor for at least another few months.

Lowry was considered to be one of the most coveted prizes on this year’s trade market, but Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline came and went without the Raptors dealing the popular player.

In a lengthy Zoom call with reporters, team president Masai Ujiri was asked if he woke up Thursday thinking he would trade Lowry.

“Honestly, we didn’t know which way it was going to go, because we’ve really talked about looking at this team in every direction that it could go,” Ujiri said. “We came to a point where we were comfortable with any direction that it went.

“Honestly, to see all the circus (Wednesday night), I also didn’t feel like maybe that was the right way to go, in one way or the other. It seemed surreal a little bit.”

The Raptors’ rout of Denver that snapped a nine-game losing streak certainly felt like it was Lowry’s last game. He even took a FaceTime call from Drake in his post-game media session.

Now the franchise cornerstone, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Thursday, will become a free agent this summer.

“I think we’ll talk about (Lowry’s long-term future) when the time comes at the end of the season,” Ujiri said. “But we all know the respect and the sentiment about Kyle and this ball club, and what he’s done not only for the city, the team, the country, the league. I think he signifies plenty.”

The Raptors were busy at the trade deadline, hoping to climb out of 11th in the Eastern Conference standings and gain some flexibility ahead of this summer’s free agency.

To that end they traded Norman Powell earlier in the day to the Portland Trail Blazers for guards Gary Trent Jr., and Rodney Hood.

“(That was) really, really tough,” Ujiri said about trading Powell. “He grew up in our organization and he’s a draft pick of ours and that touches you. That is not an easy thing to do. The other thing I will say is as much as we try to develop players and make players better, Norm made himself better. You see where his game went and the level he took it to.”

Powell is eligible to become a free agent after this season if he declines his player option.

The guard has increased his scoring average every season since Toronto acquired his draft rights in 2015 after Milwaukee selected Powell in the second round. He is averaging 19.6 points per game this season and is shooting 49.8 per cent from the field.

The Raptors host Portland on Sunday.

Trent is a restricted free agent after this season and Hood’s deal for next season is not guaranteed. The 22-year-old Trent was third on the Blazers in scoring, averaging 15 points. The 28-year-old Hood is averaging 4.7 points a night

“Gary Trent is a player with lots of upside, shooter, defender, fits our core team. That’s what we’re excited about,” Ujiri said. “I think it works both sides. Rodney’s a little bit of an experienced player and a veteran player.”

Trent’s father, Gary Trent Sr., also was traded to Toronto from Portland in the Damon Stoudamire deal in 1998.

Thursday’s biggest news however was much more about what the Raptors didn’t do.

Rumours swirled around Lowry right up to the deadline, and the Raptors made a few other moves that suggested they were opening up roster spots for a deal, trading Matt Thomas to Utah and Terence Davis to Sacramento for a future draft pick.

Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat were reportedly the top suitors for Lowry.

Lowry had said Wednesday night that he had no preferable trade-day outcome. He planned to enjoy his birthday with his two sons on Thursday, and play a round of golf.

““Everything will be fine,” he had said. “Everything will be fine, no matter what happens.”

Ujiri praised Lowry for the leadership he’s shown through one of the toughest times in franchise history, including their displacement to Tampa because of Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions and their recent COVID outbreak that sidelined three starters for almost three weeks.

“He’s always the one that shepherds us through these moments, to be honest. He’s just been a strength and a backbone for this team,” Ujiri said. “There have been tough times when we could’ve given up, collapsed. There have been times when it’s not been very pleasant, to be honest.”

Ujiri, whose contract expires this year, was asked whether his own future with the team played a role in Thursday’s moves.

“Nah, no impact, nothing,” he said. “I’ve never ever for once, going into a day like this, think about what I’m doing for myself, that’s not the way these things work, it’s not the way I was raised, it’s not the way I look at things at all.

“It doesn’t matter what happens, Raptors is inside here, it’s in the blood,” he said, placing a palm over his heart. “This is what we live, this is what we do. I love doing it, I love it to death and today, it’s part of the spirit, it’s part of everything we are.”

Cutting ties with Davis comes a month after the New York District Attorney’s Office dismissed domestic assault charges against him.

Davis had faced several charges after he and his girlfriend allegedly got into a verbal dispute at a New York hotel on Oct. 27. The NBA is still investigating the matter.

With their roster set, the Raptors (18-26) can focus on climbing back into a playoff spot. The top six teams in each conference make the playoffs and teams ranked seventh through 10th advance to the play-in tournament.

Just six players now remain from Toronto’s 2019 championship roster — Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Patrick McCaw.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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