MASAI UJIRI, KYLE LOWRY, KENDRICK(S) AND LOYALTY

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The video below is from TNT’s “Area 21” and in this episode host and certified BEAST Kevin Garnett is joined by his former Celtics teammates to discuss the Eastern Conference playoffs.  I skipped ahead to the relevant part, when they discuss if Masai should blow up the Raptors…ENJOY.

“If I was on the team and the role player that I am, I can’t follow that lead” – Kendrick Perkins

Now whatever you think of Perk and the rest of his 2008 Celtic teammates on what turned into the “Area 21 reunion show”, he does bring up a good point.  Can you be a championship team if you’re led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan?

You see we’ve come to the point where Masai Ujiri has to show who he’s actually loyal to.  Is it the point guard that’s led him to the best 4 year run in franchise history?  Is it DeMar DeRozan, who re-signed last year for “the near max” under the assumption the team would keep the core intact going forward?  Is it Dwane Casey who is arguably the best Raptors coach ever, but who is also constantly feuding with his star PG?  Or is Mr. Ujiri ultimately loyal to his MLSE bosses, who would love to keep cashing playoff cheques instead of retooling and possibly starting all over again?  Is it possible to do all of the above?  In a perfect world, yes.  But in this scenario, I don’t think so.

This is Kyle Lowry’s last chance to hit a lick and sign a max contract of 5 years, worth around $200M.  He can only get that money if he resigns with the Raptors.  But if you’re Masai Ujiri are you interested in giving a 5 year deal to a 31-year old that has gotten hurt down the stretch in each of the last 4 seasons?  I’m not sure I’d be so quick to back up the Brinks truck, but this is where the Kendrick Lamar “Loyalty, Loyalty, Loyalty” hook rewinds over and over again in my head.  If you’re loyal to Kyle Lowry and give him a max contract, it’s giving props to the work he’s done in making the Toronto Raptors a legitimate franchise.   Since coming north, Lowry has lead the team to the playoffs in 4 of his 5 seasons in a Raptors uniform.  When you consider, he’s almost doubled the franchise’s playoff appearances as a whole, he becomes an even bigger deal in The Six.  He’s been the Raps heart and soul and the reality has always been that the team would go as far as Lowry, and not DeRozan would take them.

But this my friends is where the beat on the track switches up on because the mood or should I say “Element” is about to change drastically.  This is where I remind you how this era of Raptors success happened by accident.  If not for the dysfunction of James Dolan and the New York Knicks, Masai Ujiri would have shipped Lowry to the Big Apple as the second step of the #TankNation project.  But instead, the Knicks did what the Knicks always do and messed it up. They kyboshed the deal paving the way for Lowry to remain a Raptor.  We all know what happened next, but the point remains, Masai has been playing with house money this entire time.  Think about it.  Getting to keep Kyle, the role players that were swapped for Rudy Gay perfectly fitting in, DeMar’s continued development and Casey’s constant demands at the defensive end all led to Toronto’s recent success.  Most of it happening at a higher rate than anyone would have ever imagined.  So if you’re Ujiri, do you double down on this core or do you accept it for what it was and move on with your kids (that you’ve done a great job in developing by the way #905ShoutOut #Champions #WeOutHere)

Now we all know what Lowry brings, but we also know that what he brings is on the decline and will only get worse.  For Raptors fans it was frustrating to see Lowry sulking in the media following yet another mid-season injury.  It was even harder to watch him on the bench during the two biggest games of the year.

It was a rare sight, as there’s never much of an in-between when it comes to star players and injuries during the playoffs.  Maybe it’s the age old difference between being “hurt” and being “injured”, but for me anyways, I had trouble figuring out how he tried to give it a go in game 2 before ultimately shutting it down in a blowout.  Then appeared to be close enough in game 3 that he dressed, but didn’t play at all….and then was in street clothes for game 4 looking like he was going to a funeral…or maybe he looked like something else?

(well played internet…well played)

If one were to read the tea leaves, one would think that if he REALLY wanted to play, that he could have played.  Obviously not at a 100%, but he could have given them SOMETHING because it’s the playoffs.  I mean, that is….if he really thought they had a chance against the Cavs right?!? But much like with the bum wrist he suffered around the all star break, why try to play through it and risk further injury heading into the biggest off season of your career?

Now I’ll say this, I fully understand Lowry being loyal to himself first and foremost here.  I genuinely do.  But if that is in fact the case, then the team is fully within their rights to be loyal to themselves as well.  Is this who you want as your leader if your ultimate goal is winning a championship?  If you’re going to pay Lowry and DeRozan the max and in turn the same as other max players, shouldn’t you demand the same type of leadership?  I mean it isn’t just the injuries that left a sour taste in the mouths of many Raptors fans, it was some of the quotes throughout the series as well.

“If you can find somebody to stop LeBron in these moments,” DeRozan told reporters, “I’ll give you $100.”

All while letting LeBron do this….

and this….

Oh yeah…and this….

All while the Raptors stars gave very little resistance.  Which brings us back to Kendrick Perkins and the Celtics Rat-Pack on TNT.  They aren’t the only ones that looked sideways at the quotes given by the two Raptors stars.  And so you have to wonder…are they asking the same questions about their leaders inside the Raptors locker room and throughout the entire organization.  We all know beating LeBron is a MASSIVE task to say the least, but are you willing to pay your leaders the same pay cheque as the King, while listening to them basically admitting defeat midway through the series?  If fact, have you ever heard the stars of any team in any sport give such high praise to their opponent DURING a series.  As Kendrick (Perkins not Lamar) said in the above video

“Where you do that at?”

Get past the lingo and realize there’s actually a really great question there.  Which organizations consistently accept playoff mediocrity?  What is the perception that you want for your franchise?  Who are you trying to be?  A team that actually competes for a championship or one that is simply just making the playoffs.  It’s the difference between the San Antonio Spurs and the Atlanta Hawks.  One team has built a winning culture that demands being in the championship conversation year in and year out.  The other, has NEVER been taken seriously despite making the playoffs in each of the last 10 years (its ok, I’ll wait while you look it up.  The Hawks have actually made the playoffs 10 years in a row and you HAD NO IDEA right?).

We know at least publicly which side Masai Ujiri wants to be on after his press conference on Tuesday that focused on a “Culture Reset”.  But I honestly question what answer you’d get as a fly on the wall in an MLSE boardroom that wants to justify raising ticket prices year after year.  I mean they could just fire coach Casey, but that really just covers up what the real issues are.  I guess in the end, Kendrick (Lamar, not Perkins) has the best question for both the Raptors and Kyle Lowry going forward:

Tell me who you’re loyal to…Is it money, is it fame…Is it fans, is it rings?

Ok so I obviously had to change the last two words from “weed” and “drink” to “fans” and “rings” to make it work…but you get the idea right?  Anyways…it’s gonna be another one of those summers in The Six.

As always….just my thoughts.  Right or wrong, just how I’m feeling at the time.

@ShelAlexander

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