NBA

Kyle Lowry wants to take the Raptors to new heights

The temperature inside the Air Canada Centre was a little cool on Friday, but the atmosphere was otherwise warm and fuzzy as the Toronto Raptors announced that Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will both be returning for three more years.

All-star guard feels at home and says he's 'all-in' for title run

Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry speaks during a news conference in Toronto on Friday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The temperature inside the Air Canada Centre was a little cool on Friday, but the atmosphere was otherwise warm and fuzzy as the Toronto Raptors announced that Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will both be returning for three more years.

When Lowry revealed his decision to re-sign with the Raptors in a piece for The Players' Tribune, he reasoned that Toronto simply felt like home and where he wanted to be in his heart.  

As such, the all-star point guard and the team he has been with for the past five seasons have decided to form a partnership with the goal of competing for an NBA championship. 

Lowry signed for a reported $100 million US, while Ibaka's deal is for three years, $65 million. 

The Raptors see Lowry as a key contributor going forward. The 31-year-old posted a career-high 22.4 points per game, along with 4.8 rebounds and seven assists in 2016-17, despite missing 22 regular-season games and the final two contests against the Cavaliers in their second-round playoff series. 

Lowry believes the organization will do whatever is necessary to take the next step and he did not mince words in describing his level of commitment to the process. 

"I'm all in," said Lowry. "At the end of the day, I want to help this organization get better, I want to help the younger guys get better, I want to take this city to new heights, I'm going to take this country to new heights."

Lowry is going to need some help in achieving those goals, which at the very least sound pleasing to the ear. 

The prevailing challenge for the Raptors, along with the rest of the Eastern Conference, is to field a roster capable of knocking off the Cavaliers — to catch lightning in a bottle or some combination of both. Even the Boston Celtics, who finished atop the Eastern Conference last season, proved to be little match for Cleveland in the playoffs, falling 4-1 in the conference final.

Follow the leader

The modern NBA game, which seems to have evolved in the blink of an eye, is best suited for teams that are able to space the floor and create efficient three-point field goal opportunities. If a team has three, four, or even five players on the floor with three-point range, all the better.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has seen the effects of the three-point shot and knows his team needs to adapt, even though he acknowledges the copy-cat style of play. 

"It's a big part of the game now, that's obvious and I think it's going to continue to be for a while," he said. "It's obvious that teams are using it to an advantage now and we all have to. The three-point shot is vital to the game."

That's an area where the Raptors will have to lean heavily on Lowry — he's the club's all-time leader with 828 three-point field goals — as well as Ibaka.  

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors' Serge Ibaka defends in Game 3 of their playoff series in Toronto on May 5. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press)

In 23 games with the Raptors after arriving from Orlando in a trade for Terrence Ross, Ibaka averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and, perhaps most importantly, connected on 39.8 per cent of his three-point attempts. 

The 6-10 forward is a good fit for the Raptors and the current recipe for success in the league — at least in theory. The 27-year-old can offer a line of defence near the basket as well as the ability to knock down shots from long range. 

None of this is to forget DeMar DeRozan, who finished fifth last season at 27.3 points per game, but he has been most productive inside the arc and at the free-throw line to this point in his career. 

Much has changed for the Raptors since Lowry was acquired from the Houston Rockets in July 2012. Toronto went 34-48 in his first season with the team, but Toronto has since made four straight trips to the post-season, highlighted by a franchise-high 56 wins and a trip to the conference final in 2016. 

'We have to be good every year'

​However, the Eastern Conference has gone through some drastic changes of its own in just the past couple weeks.

Rumoured to have been interested in Paul George and Jimmy Butler, the Celtics finally joined the arms race by luring guard Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz as he enter's the prime of his career.

As for George and Butler, they were both traded to the Western Conference where team's are faced with the daunting task of dethroning the all-world Golden State Warriors. 

While Ujiri admitted he was happy to see a couple all-stars go to the West, the challenge of getting by the Cavaliers still remains.

But despite the task of solving the Cavaliers, and the obstacles presented by the other 28 teams, Lowry said it's time for the Raptors to put their best foot forward. 

"I think we want to be good every year. This year we want to be good and next year we want to be good and the year after.

"We have to get better, we have to be good every year. We don't worry about what's two years from now, we worry about this upcoming season. Whatever window that is, we have a window this year. That's our window and we have to be the best team we can be this year."

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