BRITISH COLUMBIA

Ujiri: Raptors point guard Lowry has shown signs of maturing this pre-season

10/04/2014 08:36 EDT | Updated 12/04/2014 05:59 EST
BURNABY, B.C. - For all the talk about a more mature Kyle Lowry this pre-season, his actions in one particular practice this week spoke louder than words.

Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri watched intently as the telling sequence of events unfolded. Lowry made a great pass to Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas then bobbled the ball.

"Kyle just turned away. Last year it would be different. There would be (anger)," Ujiri said Saturday on the eve of Toronto's pre-season opener in Vancouver. "And then he turned right back and went to Jonas and gave him two high fives and tapped him.

"It was gone, on to the next (thing). It shows growth. . . And it was a crucial time of the scrimmage."

The Raptors' 28-year-old point guard signed a four-year contract worth US$48 million this past off-season. It came just weeks after he firmly established himself as the team's heart and soul in a thrilling playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets.

There was talk about Lowry's temper when he arrived in Toronto two seasons ago. Arguably the team's hardest worker, he's a natural leader by example.

"(But) sometimes with Kyle before, it was how was the message delivered," Ujiri said. "(His reaction to Valanciunas) shows me he's maturing and he knows the buttons to press."

"They control the whole game," he added, of the point guard's role. "They are also the coach on the floor. He's got that mind. He's got the leadership in him to run a team."

The Raptors tip-off the pre-season against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday in front of a capacity crowd at Rogers Arena.

The game caps a strong training camp for Lowry, who arrived back from the off-season in "unbelievable shape," Ujiri said.

The Raptors chart all the players in virtually every play in every practice throughout the week, keeping track of everything from loose balls won to rebounds and deflections. Lowry has topped the charts, according to Ujiri.

"All of the competitions and stuff that they do, whether it's shooting or three-on-three, whatever it is they do, (Lowry's) team always is on top," Ujiri said.

"He plays hard. He has the edge. That's the honest truth: He does have an edge. And he wants to win. He's very competitive every single game. There's something about winning."

Coach Dwane Casey has also noticed a calmer Lowry this season.

"The fire and brimstone is more under control," the coach said.

Lowry still prefers to lead by example.

"I'm more of a go-hard every single day and guys follow my lead, that type of thing," he said. "I don't focus in on 'Oh, I'm the leader, I'm the leader.' I focus in on being me and playing hard and doing whatever it takes to win games."

Starting with Lowry — who announced on Twitter he planned to re-sign with Toronto, posting a picture of himself in a throwback No. 15 Raptors jersey, to represent the 2014-15 season — the Raptors retained their core from last season. It provided consistency that the players say has been huge.

"It means everything," DeRozan said. "Especially for me, personally, because I never really had the consistent group of guys that I could play with. The chemistry that we had last year, that we built between every single guy, was amazing."

Lowry called DeRozan first and confirmed he was staying put in Toronto. But DeRozan was never worried.

"I never gave him a sales pitch, I was just trying to support him, honestly, as a friend," DeRozan said. "My whole sales pitch was all last season, the things me and him did together (on the court) spoke for itself. So I didn't have to say anything."

Amir Johnson, who along with DeRozan is the longest serving Raptor — they both arrived in 2009 — also wasn't worried about the core being back this season.

"Pretty much we all knew," Johnson said. "After that last Game 7 (a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Nets), we all sat around in the locker-room and all looked at each other and told each other that we want to do it again.

"We all knew everyone was coming back. There was no doubt in my mind."

Following Sunday, the Raptors will travel to Sacramento to face the Kings again on Tuesday. They'll play their first pre-season game in Toronto on Friday versus the Boston Celtics.

The Raptors open the regular-season at home against the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 29.

Sacramento's visit to Vancouver also marks the NBA debut of Canadians Nik Stauskas and Sim Bhullar.

Stauskas, from Mississauga, Ont., was the eighth overall pick in the NBA draft, while Bhullar, from Toronto, signed with the Kings to join training camp, becoming the first player of Indian descent to sign a contract with an NBA team.