It says everything about Kyle Lowry’s time with the Toronto Raptors that mere minutes after leading the team to the Game 6 win in Oakland that clinched the 2019 NBA title, he was still working. Not as the all-star who had done more than anyone not named Kawhi Leonard to clinch the title, but as a faux journalist posing questions to teammate Fred VanVleet.

Lowry’s work ethic proved infectious in that championship run, and rubbed off on many of his teammates, who collectively set the standards by which Canada’s lone NBA franchise will be judged long after Lowry is gone.

It’s time to start judging.

The day every Raptors fan has been dreading finally arrived Monday, as the free-agent point guard confirmed their worst fears from the past few months. Lowry released a social-media post that read “Miami Heat X Kyle Lowry” and “Let’s Goo!!” followed by numerous fire emojis, setting the stage for him to sign what ESPN reports will be a three-year, US$90-million contract on Friday at noon, when the NBA makes free-agent signings official.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who first reported the deal minutes after NBA free agency began on Monday evening, said it would be a sign-and-trade between Miami and Toronto, although it is not yet known which players will be heading north in the deal. Wojnarowski, and others, also confirmed that the Raptors have reached agreement on a US$54-million, three-year deal with Gary Trent Jr., the versatile guard who Toronto received from Portland in the Norm Powell trade.

In many ways, Lowry’s growth into a perennial all-star has mirrored that of the Raptors. When the Philadelphia native arrived in July, 2012, after a trade with Houston, Toronto was in the midst of a five-year postseason drought and had won just a single playoff series in the franchise’s 17-year history.

Now, after six division titles in seven years and one NBA championship, Lowry departs with the Raptors looking every inch the model NBA franchise. The team has a state-of-the-art training facility, has played host to both an all-star game and a Christmas Day game, and – the 2020-21 season notwithstanding – is a consistent playoff team after just five appearances in the postseason prior to his arrival.

Lowry played just 46 games last season owing to injuries, but still averaged 17.2 points and 7.3 assists, well above his career averages of 14.9 and 6.2, respectively. Toronto finished 12th in the Eastern Conference while playing ‘home’ games in Tampa, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, Lowry’s first season with the Raptors.

He leaves as the team’s franchise leader in triple-doubles (16), three-pointers (1,518), assists (4,277) and steals (873). And his 10,540 points are good for second in the team’s record book behind friend and former teammate DeMar DeRozan (13,296), who also holds the edge on Lowry in games and minutes played.

In joining Miami, Lowry will be teaming with Jimmy Butler, another perennial all-star who played with both Lowry and DeRozan at the Rio Olympics when the United States rolled to gold with a perfect 8-0 record.

At Toronto’s end-of-season media day back in May, the 35-year-old had said that while his family would be an important consideration in where he played next season, he displayed typical bluntness in highlighting the importance of dollars and length of deal in his next contract.

But after growing into a six-time all-star who won both an NBA title and an Olympic gold during his tenure in The North, playing for a contending team was also high on his list of priorities. The Heat made the NBA Finals in 2020 before losing to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, and were swept in the opening round last season by the Milwaukee Bucks, the eventual champions.

“I want championships, that’s always been the goal,” Lowry said. “Money comes with that and you get paid, but championships are a big key into why I play this game.”

The departure of Lowry leaves VanVleet as the team’s starting point guard next season, with the two sharing a friendship as well as a position.

Two years after that franchise-altering game in California, VanVleet’s response to Lowry’s postgame question about what it felt like to be a world champion summed up the feelings of everyone involved with the Raptors, both on and off the court, as well as all the fans watching in the stands that night, and the millions more watching on TV north of the border.

“It’s unbelievable to have guys like Kyle Lowry on your team … ‚” he said. “To have him be able to hold that trophy up tonight, that’s what means the most to us.”

The Globe and Mail, August 2, 2021