5. Kyle Lowry — Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry certainly had an unfortunate break (no pun intended) this season as he was sidelined for nearly 20 games due to a broken wrist. He returned, obviously, in time to finish the regular season and for the playoffs. Now that the Raps enter the postseason coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals one year ago when they pushed the eventual-champion Cavalier to six games. Even when dealing with Lowry’s absence, they still secured the No. 3 seed in the East.
Despite the Boston Celtics usurping them as the second-seed in the conference, the Raptors should still have Eastern Conference Finals expectations. The addition of P.J. Tucker could prove pivotal to making them an even more formidable playoff opponent than they were a year ago. If Lowry is able to regain his form quickly, they could conceivable push the Cavs once again as well.
However, that’s not why the pressure is on Lowry in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Instead, it comes down to the fact that Lowry is likely going to be a free agent this offseason. He’s slated to make $12 million next season, but has a player option in his deal (per Spotrac) that he’ll surely take with the money he’ll get on his next contract with the salary cap continuing to skyrocket.
Because of what Lowry has meant to the Raptors amidst their recent rise to prominence, the assumption has been that they’ll pay whatever it takes to re-sign him. However, if Lowry comes into these playoffs and struggles to perform, thus costing the Raptors, that complicates matters. The NBA is a business and, though past contributions and loyalty matter, would it really be prudent to pay a 31-year-old point guard top-tier money if they don’t believe he can get them over the hump? To avoid that question and a potentially difficult decision, Lowry must step up for Toronto in the playoffs.