Meanwhile in Toronto... People Are Lying About Kyle Lowry

Raptors fans, you've had it easy. That sounds stupid given the years of sub-five hundred basketball you've endured these past few years, but it's no less true. It's true for every fan of habitually losing franchises and for no other reason than the predictability of the teams future. If you stink, you pray for a favourable bounce in the draft lottery and then pray even harder for a future star coming from the pick. It's an easy concept to understand and Raptors fans know this all too well. For years they've flooded mock draft sites, followed college hoops and scoured YouTube videos for a star-in-waiting that will transform their franchise from perennial losers to legitimate contenders.

But now the Raptors are legitimate, laced with talented mid-lottery draft picks as a nucleus, complimented by a solid group of supporting players providing a competitive lineup in all stages of the game. The Raptors are winning and with that success eliminates meaningful improvement through the draft.

Admittedly, it's a problem you want to have. But for Raptors fans unfamiliar with improvement outside of the draft, it's largely uncharted waters.

It speaks to the latest round of trade rumours circulating one of the catalysts of the Raptors recent string of success, namely Kyle Lowry. The point guard is in the final year of his contract and with unrestricted free agency on the horizon, calls for Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to trade Lowry have begun filling message boards and sports-talk radio shows.

'His stock is high, maybe we can trade for a high draft pick'

'We can't loose him for nothing'

'He's only playing well because it's a contract year, like in Houston'

Concerns perpetuated by a fan base unfamiliar with building onto an already winning team. And in all of the naval gazing that so defines sports fans in Toronto, what's missed is that one of the biggest concerns is based largely on revisionist history.

There's an idea floating around that Lowry is 'playing up' in an effort to garner leverage for upcoming contract negotiations and that this scenario has happened before.

Although there is truth to the idea of impressing your bosses before a potential raise, what is being glossed over is that this is the first time Lowry has improved his numbers going into a contract year. In 2009-2010, Lowry was playing in the final year of his rookie contract, below are his season averages.

2009-10: 24.3 MPG | 39.7 FG% | 3.6 REB | 4.5 AST | 0.9 STL | 9.1 PTS |

On July 14th 2010, Lowry signed a 4 year/23.4 million dollar contract. The jump in Lowry's game actually came after his extension was signed... not before.

With Houston:
2010-11: 34.2 MPG | 42.6 FG% | 4.1 REB | 6.7 AST | 1.4 STL | 13.5 PTS |
2011-12: 32.1 MPG | 40.9 FG% | 4.5 REB | 6.6 AST | 1.6 STL | 14.3 PTS |

With Toronto:
2012-13: 29.7 MPG | 40.1 FG% | 4.7 REB | 6.4 AST | 1.4 STL | 11.6 PTS |
2013-14: 36.1 MPG | 43.1 FG% | 4.3 REB | 7.5 AST | 1.6 STL | 16.5 PTS |

Lowry's stats under this current contract have been better than his career averages in nearly every category, nearly every year. A good sign if the Raptors want to resign as it stands to reason that Lowry is more likely to play at or above past performances. Even with the criticism of poor fitness in the 2012-2013 season, Lowry still scrapped together numbers that largely shadowed his career averages.

Now that we have some context, eliminate the idea that the Raptors will loose Lowry for nothing or that they have a chance of parlaying him into a high draft pick. Neither scenario will happen given Masai Ujiri's history and the perceived strength of this years draft class.

So what we're left with is the obvious. The Raptors will sign Lowry if the price is right. If Lowry doesn't want to continue in Toronto, they'll trade his rights in the offseason. It's really that simple. Let's just make sure we have our stories straight Toronto, because Lowry has shown little in the way of only playing for a contract and it's unfair to sully his name for the sake of having an excuse if he walks.

Lowry seems to have found a home in Toronto and maybe if we all just shut up and enjoy the success, everything will work itself out... one way or the other.

Meanwhile in Toronto (Watching the Big Game)

It's been a month, probably time to check in.

Heck of a football game Sunday, huh? OK, I guess it wasn't if you were cheering for/had money on the Denver's. But I believe most sports fans watch sports for exactly what happened in Jersey Sunday night; the unexpected.

When a game is so one sided, any observation sort of rings hallow. You saw what happened, I saw what happened - there isn't many clever points I can make that you didn't notice or haven't already heard/talked about. But with that in mind, I'll add this.

For what it's worth; the reason Seattle was so inherently prepared for the big game had far less to do with game-planning or scheme. Several players admitted that the defensive game-plan was dumbed down. Nothing fancy, just keep Denver in front of you and rattle their internal organs at every chance. A solid strategy, but what was far more influential is the culture with which head coach Pete Carol fostered his team. It was outlined in a preseason article in ESPN the magazine and on full display Sunday.

Guys flying around the field, a coaching staff meeting them with encouragement and enthusiasm. Sure it's easy to be 'up' when you're winning, but it's clear that this isn't just a coaching style. It's a philosophy of building your players up, instead of tearing them down. Focussing on the positive, rather than not duplicating the negative. The Seahawks don't look at a bad play and say "what went wrong" but rather "what went right and why didn't it effect the overall play." And if nothing went right, they don't run the play. A key is to never, ever, put a player in a position where he can't contribute to success.

I'm certain (or as certain you can be about these things) that if Denver forced a turnover or made a momentum shifting play, Carol would be the first man on the field keeping his players up. 'Forget about that one, it's not important and the game isn't over.'

After Denver center Manny Ramirez sent the first snap of the game into the end zone and put the Broncos down early, the shot of Manning acting more than mildly perturbed aired on televisions around the world. It was only 2-0 and with the ensuing change of possession only costing Denver 3 more points, that mistake should've been easy to shake, but it wasn't. You could see the culture of 'Peyton' that rules supreme in Denver and it cost them everything in the end. No Bronco was turning to his teammate and lifting him up, it was a sea of dropped faces and confused eyes. Veterans shouting whatever cliche to try and stir something, anything.

How did this happen? Why did this happen?

And for as much as any other reason (in my humble opinion) 'it' happened because one team had instituted a team first culture while the other, was trying to build one man's legacy. It's all fun and games in the regular season, with schedules rife with the stench of mediocre. But in the playoffs and specifically the Sup... oops... big game, being an offensive machine means absolutely nothing when you don't know where the keys to the engine are.

We'll talk soon.