It was always going to be a climb to reach Valhalla. Or, more accurately, it was going to be a climb to get a chance to have a chance. This is the era of LeBron James, and while he’s no longer in his absolute prime, he and Cleveland still tower over the Eastern Conference, problems and all. It was always going to be a climb.
And now, days into an attempt to be the best Raptors team they’ve ever had, here comes the Warren Beatty-like twist: On Tuesday Kyle Lowry will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist to clean out loose bodies, or fragmentary bits of bone or cartilage. The initial recovery time is estimated to be four to five weeks. The regular season ends in Cleveland on April 12, which is six weeks and one day after the surgery. The Raptors hope he comes back before the playoffs start. The only minor surgery is surgery that happens to someone you don’t know, and nobody knows how a body will respond. But there’s a window there.
“We’ll see (about) recovery,” said team president Masai Ujiri. “One of the reasons why we all came to a decision with Kyle (was) that we should do this now, to give him a chance to come back strong.”
A chance. Some hope. The goal, the aim. It’s all hypothetical right now. Lowry woke up a week ago Thursday with a sore wrist, he said. He participated in all-star Saturday night in New Orleans, talked to trainers, golfed Sunday morning, iced his wrist during the game Sunday night, wore a brace afterwards. He didn’t think it was too serious. He doesn’t know how he got hurt. As he told reporters in New York, “I’ve played through so much stuff.”
Lowry sat out Toronto’s first two games after the team acquired Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker before the trade deadline. Toronto won both games. He felt great Sunday; he was re-examined Monday, after the wrist swelled up. The team insists that the weekend in New Orleans didn’t cause the injury, that Lowry may have misconstrued what his body was telling him, but then, so did trainers in New Orleans. For all we know, those loose bodies were going to be jarred in the wrong way by raising a water glass. This wasn’t a sudden injury. This sounds like old stuff — Lowry broke his wrist in 2006, his rookie season — unearthed.
And in Toronto basketball, old things being unearthed is never a good thing. The deals Ujiri made before the trade deadline guaranteed nothing, but the pieces added made so much sense. Serge Ibaka showed some big-man moves against Portland Sunday, and made some big plays against Boston Friday. P.J. Tucker has limitations, and this town will fall unreasonably in love with him the same way it did with Jerome Williams and Matt Bonner. But when he, Ibaka and Patrick Patterson are out there, you see the potential for a defence that can switch, blitz, whatever you need. In Toronto, it stands out like a meteor.
The depth of this team should help keep it going, though Cory Joseph has been inconsistent, and without Lowry the shooting is suddenly limited. Toronto still may be able to clamber out of the fourth seed, which carries a second-round meeting with Cleveland, rather than a conference final one round later. Maybe they can hold it together, while putting it together.
The fate of this team was still always going to rely on Lowry more than anything else. No matter how the roster was fortified, the question was still going to be what DeMar DeRozan and Lowry could do in the playoffs. Last year they shot .394 and .397, respectively, in those 20 games, and it was like trying to keep your balance on a violently swaying ship. This year DeRozan has raised his game into the realm of real stars, and he and Lowry should have the option of more space with better shooters. But the playoffs, when teams can plan and load up, was always going to be the test.
Lowry should be able to adapt quickly to new teammates, because he’s built on smarts. But if the hope before was to fit all these new combinations together and be polished for the playoffs, this is the hope now: scrape their way past Washington or Boston, get Lowry back in late March or early April, get a handful of games under their belt, and hope that his shooting touch comes back before the games start to matter. It’s a narrower ledge to navigate. Easier to fall.
Ujiri said this team deserved the chance to see what it could do, after he made the trades. Well, now we really get to find out. This Raptors team has more potential than any team they’ve ever had. The Cavaliers have Kevin Love and J.R. Smith coming back from their own surgeries. LeBron isn’t invincible: it can just feel that way. And the road just got harder, from now to the end.
With files from Doug Smith in New York
With files from Doug Smith in New York
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