Raptors

This decade truly couldn’t have ended any better for the Raptors and their fans. Toronto took a gamble – trading franchise star, DeMar DeRozan for a former Finals MVP who had played in nine games the previous season due to injury. But President Masai Ujiri’s bet paid off, with Kawhi Leonard returning to form during the post-season, leading the Raptors to their first NBA title. But the Associated Press Male Athlete of 2019 had a pretty good running mate along the way to help him hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Kyle Lowry was instrumental in the Raptors’ championship run, his start to Game 6 of the Finals being the best example. Once the title was clinched, Leonard made sure to acknowledge Lowry’s contribution, calling him the MVP of the game for the way he led the team early on.

For Lowry, going into the new decade as a reigning NBA champion doesn’t mean the 33-year old didn’t endure his fair share of hardship during the past 10 seasons. The Philadelphia native started the decade in Houston, where under head coach Rick Adelman, the young point guard was flourishing.

But Adelman left the Rockets, and was replaced with Kevin McHale. As Lowry struggled to get along with his new head coach, coupled with a stretch of injuries, Houston found it easy to move on from Lowry and give the reigns to the cheaper Goran Dragic.

Thus beginning his stay in Toronto. But simply moving north of the border did not mean his road would no longer be riddled with adversity. After being traded to the Raptors in 2012, the Villanova product contended with Jose Calderon for the starting point guard role, and had his leadership challenged, both inside the locker room and out, and was nearly traded in the 2013-14 season after the team got off to a bad start.

But after Ujiri trusted Lowry and the Raptors’ core to turn around that campaign, everyone responded. Lowry averaged a career-best 17.9 points per game, and helped lead Toronto to a franchise-best 48 wins and a division title.

The Raptors were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but beginning with the following year, Lowry would be selected to the all-star team in every season. Partnered with his best friend DeRozan, the two never missed the post-season going forward.

Unfortunately for the duo, change was needed after LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Raptors out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Hence, ushering in Leonard from San Antonio and the Raptors’ first NBA championship.

So while Toronto went through its share of head coaches and changed personnel throughout the decade, Lowry remained the constant ever since he was acquired from Houston. The point guard matured both on and off the court, and became one of the best players in the NBA for the decade, as illustrated by Jacob Goldstein
@JacobEGoldstein:

Most of the names on that graph are expected, but there are those outside of Toronto that would be surprised to find Lowry among the top 10 most impactful players of the decade by wins added. Five of the six names ahead of him have won MVP, and while Lowry has never won that award, the Raptors certainly wouldn’t have the Larry O’Brien trophy in their trophy cabinet if not for the MVP play of Lowry over this decade.

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