The Toronto Raptors have officially acquired the cornerstone of what they hope will be a young team brimming with potential.
The Raptors and Houston Rockets finalized a trade Wednesday that will send point guard Kyle Lowry to Toronto for forward Gary Forbes and a protected future first-round draft choice.
"We feel we've added a solid starting-calibre point guard to our team who will bring toughness, grit and playmaking at a very important position," Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said during a conference call. "At (26 years old) I would say Kyle represents what I would characterize as the future of the position."
Lowry averaged career bests of 14.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals with the Rockets last year. He also contributed team-highs of 6.6 assists and 32.1 minutes in 47 games.
He is slated to make US$5.75 million next season and $6.21 million in 2013-14, a very attractive price for a starting point guard who can put up points and eat minutes.
The six-foot, 205-pound Philadelphia native is a key building block for a young team that will add prized rookie centre Jonas Valanciunas, recent draft picks Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy and potentially guard/small forward Landry Fields to its roster next season.
The deal was first reported last week, shortly after the Raptors missed out on signing Victoria's Steve Nash. The Canadian star went to the Los Angeles Lakers instead.
"I respect Steve a great deal for making his decision about family first and probably basketball second," Colangelo said. "The fact that he got a perfect blend that allows him to compete for a championship an hour away from his family ... I can't fault a guy for that and I applaud him for it actually."
Colangelo also said the team was going ahead with its plan to sign Fields to an offer sheet, reported last week to be around $20 million.
Colangelo confirmed Fields was targetted partly because the Knicks planned to use him as a piece of a sign-and-trade deal to lure Nash to New York. With Nash no longer in the Raptors' plans, the cost for Fields would seem high for a player who regressed last season after a solid rookie year in New York. Fields averaged 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds a game.
"I think I'm criticized for every contract I sign, so I just take it with the territory," Colangelo said. "It seems at some point those contracts seem to validate themselves.
"Free agency is a funny game. Most of the time you sign a free agent you're overpaying. In restricted free agency you tend to overpay even more. We put a value on certain players based on a lot of input and a lot of thought, and we think at the end of the day there's going to be significant value for what we are going to be paying Landry Fields."
The Knicks have three days to match the Raptors' offer to Fields, a scenario which Colangelo called a "50/50 proposition."
What Lowry's acquisition means for current Raptor point guard Jose Calderon remains to be seen. Calderon played well last season averaging 10.5 points and 8.8 assists per game, but Lowry is five years younger and regarded as an upgrade on defence. A likely scenario would see Lowry start and Calderon come off the bench.
Colangelo also said the Raptors would not be against trading Calderon for the right price, but for now they see him as a valuable part of the team.
"I'm not going to tell you (Jose) was thrilled about the trade, but in the end this is about becoming a better basketball team and that's my No. 1 concern," Colangelo said.
Lowry was a first-round draft choice (24th overall) by Memphis in 2006. He played two seasons at Villanova University before declaring for the NBA Draft.
Forbes averaged 6.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 14.9 minutes in 48 games last season with the Raptors.
With files from The Associated Press