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Lowry set to become a free agent, but sounds committed to remaining a Raptor

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TORONTO - The morning after the Toronto Raptors' season ended in heartbreaking fashion, and two months before he becomes a free agent, Kyle Lowry wasn't keen to talk about his future.

But the Raptors point guard certainly sounds like he's not going anywhere.

"I love this place. I love this situation. It's as simple as that," Lowry said Monday.

The Raptors met with the media the day after their 104-103 Game 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets that ended their first playoff run in six seasons, and if there was a recurring theme, it was a sense of satisfaction from a season that turned out far better than most envisioned, and a desire to keep the team together.

Lowry and coach Dwane Casey are the two question marks. Lowry, the Raptors' heart and soul this season, becomes a free agent on July 1, while Casey is in the final year of his contract — although The Associated Press had an anonymous source confirm that the coach signed a three-year deal with the team late Monday.

Lowry said he hasn't spoken to his agent yet. His mind was still on Sunday's loss at the Air Canada Centre, particularly the game's final play that saw his shot blocked at the buzzer. But Lowry said "of course" he can see himself back in a Raptors jersey next season.

"We just went to Game 7, first round. Nobody expected us to be there. Of course I can see that," said Lowry, who went on to praise his teammates. "It's a good mixture. It's a great mixture, actually. I said it yesterday: It's the best 14 other guys I've had in a locker-room in my career."

The Raptors went 6-12 to open the season before a remarkable turnaround that came after the seven-player trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings. Toronto went on to win a franchise-high 48 games, capture the Atlantic Division title and earn the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Lowry was a huge part of their success. After earning a reputation for being moody and difficult last season, the point guard returned this past fall with a different demeanour, and went on to have a solid season, averaging 17.9 points and 7.4 assists. He shone in the playoffs, scoring a career playoff high of 36 points in Game 5.

When a reporter pointed out that he looked happy, the 28-year-old guard replied: "It's very difficult. At the end of the day it's still a business and you have to be a businessman for the situation that you're in. But I am very happy. This has been one of the best seasons I've had through and through. Best coaches, teammates, upstairs. It's been great. I am happy. Without a doubt I can say I'm happy."

Lowry earned US$6.2 million this season, and his value going into free agency has never been higher. The Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams who reportedly covet Lowry.

As for how he'll decide his future, Lowry said the bullet-point factors are: winning, family and a team's situation.

"I want to be happy, I want to win," he said.

His teammates want to keep him.

"Kyle is an elite player and as far as him staying here, I'm sure a lot of people in Toronto would love that," Patrick Patterson said. "It all depends on him. But definitely if Toronto wants to get better in the future, have someone to build around and be the key, the glue for the basketball team, what better person to start with than Kyle?"

Terrence Ross, whose steal in the dying seconds Sunday gave the Raptors a chance to win, said Lowry is "like my big brother.

"I look up to him, ask for advice on a lot of different things, on and off the court," Ross said. "He's hands down the best point guard I've ever played with. He's taught me a lot. He motivates everybody. I really hope he comes back. I even talk to him all of the time, saying 'You've got to come back. You're basically the heart of the team. We need you to come back.' He did a lot for us: defensively, offensively. He did it all."

Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan is as close to Lowry as anyone on the team and said he's not concerned about the futures of Lowry or Casey, sounding confident they'll both be back with Toronto next season.

"I ain't gotta worry about nothing. It'll all work itself out," DeRozan said, with a mischievous laugh. "I support them. Love 'em both."

When someone mentioned DeRozan's body language seemed to say Lowry had assured him he'd be back, DeRozan laughed again and said: "I didn't say that. I didn't say he was, I didn't say he wasn't. I just said I'm not worried about it."

Lowry said he's looking forward to spending some time in Toronto this summer.

"Masai (Ujiri, the Raptors GM) invited me to come do something here. I'm excited about doing that. This city is awesome. The weather is starting to change. Boats are on the lake. It'll be nice. You can walk outside. I'm looking forward to coming up here for a couple days."

DeRozan, who had a career season, earning his first all-star selection as well as improving tremendously on the defensive end, said he leaves satisfied, despite Sunday night's heartbreaking ending.

"Looking back on everything, it seems like everything happened so fast from the trade so early on to everybody not knowing what was going to happen, people really doubting us, counting us out. Using that tanking word, whatever," DeRozan said. "We're definitely pleased with how we played every single night because we knew we laid it out there every single night and it was no question about that. It sucks to lose in the Game 7 in the playoffs, but nobody picked us to even make it."

DeRozan was at a loss for words when asked about the team's flaws and what it needs to build on for next season.

"You think man, we lost a Game 7 by one point. One point. One point," DeRozan said. "Who knows, man. I don't know. I really don't have the answer exactly right now, but we lost by one point."

Despite the breakout season DeRozan had, the 24-year-old said there's plenty he wants to work on in the off-season.

"It's a lot. I don't even know where to start," he said. "I really haven't evaluated every single thing, but I know it's a lot for sure that I'm frustrated with myself, that I know I should be better at and I will be better at next year."

Among the other Raptors, Amir Johnson said he'll see doctors about the bad ankle that plagued him all season. Sophomore centre Jonas Valanciunas will play for Lithuania, and with also work out with NBA legend and former Raptor Hakeem Olajuwon.

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