TORONTO — Masai Ujiri defended the Toronto Raptors' handling of Kyle Lowry's wrist injury, despite the fact the point guard is scheduled to undergo surgery barely a week after playing in the NBA all-star game.
"I don't think there's any bad optics here," the team president said. "If you look at the history of this kind of injury, players sometimes feel pain and sometimes they don't feel pain. Sometimes if you feel that this thing is going to go away, and that's how he felt. There were a couple of games when Kyle felt it in his wrist I'm sure, a couple times where he slept wrong and he felt it, there was swelling.
"(Sunday) Kyle felt OK actually, the swelling had gone down, we were very optimistic," Ujiri added. "And then this morning it swelled up again."
Lowry will undergo surgery on Tuesday to remove loose bodies from his right wrist. He's expected to miss the rest of the regular season, with an aim to return in time for the playoffs.
The Raptors were in New York to play the Knicks on Monday and Lowry visited a surgeon there who operated on his broken left wrist in his rookie season, and a joint decision was made to perform the surgery now rather than have to deal with the nagging injury the rest of the season.
"Everybody drew the conclusion that it will be good to clean this out now rather than it be something that continues to re-occur," Ujiri said on a conference call Monday. "With this kind of problem, when it lodges in the joint, there can be some discomfort one day and the next day you can feel good and then the next day you feel discomfort again, or there's swelling.
"Obviously it's a little disappointing for us, but we're also lucky, we're trying to get ahead of it, and hopefully there's a good timeframe where he has this surgery and then we see how it goes," he added. "But when you lose a player like that for a certain amount of time, Kyle is an all-star player, he leads our team in minutes, he leads our team in almost everything, there's always going to be some sort of disappointment there. But the team goes on, and we'll play our best and hold fort until he gets back."
Lowry injured the wrist against Charlotte on Feb. 15, but played in the NBA all-star game four days later in New Orleans plus participated in the three-point shooting contest. He said he hadn't thought the injury was serious. He received treatment from the Pelicans staff in New Orleans, and had the wrist bandaged with ice when he wasn't on the floor.
Raptors fans took to social media Monday to voice their disappointment about all-star weekend.
"If anybody wants to make a big deal of the all-star game or three-point contest, humbly I say I don't think this can be questioned," Ujiri said. "By the way, I'll say out of all of us, I think Kyle might be the smartest guy because it's a contract year, I don't think Kyle is going to do anything that is going to hurt him in any way. I 100 per cent feel that the all-star game, I don't think Kyle will look at that and say 'Hey, I'll put myself in this position, and jeopardized something by playing in the all-star game.'"
Monday's news came as a surprise a day after coach Dwane Casey had said tests showed no significant damage to the wrist.
With 23 games left in the regular season, it's also a big blow to a team looking to climb back up the Eastern Conference standings. Lowry is second on the team with his average of 22.8 points and leads the Raptors with 6.9 assists per game. The Raptors have averaged 113.2 points with Lowry on the floor this season, compared to 105.1 without him. Defensively, they've allowed 105.1 points with Lowry in the game versus 108.6 without him.
Cory Joseph and Delon Wright fared well in Lowry's absence in Sunday's 102-96 win over Portland. Joseph had 14 points and six assists, while Wright added 11 points.
Ujiri said there are no plans to sign another point guard.
"We have to give the point guards we have the experience to grow, to build with this team, and to be ready for what's coming," Ujiri said. "We're going to discuss some more, but off the top of my head now I would say no, I think Cory and Delon and Fred (VanVleet) have been very capable. We believe in them, and I think we'll go from there."
Three-time all-star DeMar DeRozan also stepped up in Lowry's absence. In the past two games, he's scored 76 points combined, shot 54.5 per cent from the field and made 27-of-28 from the free throw line.
The Raptors have also looked better for the two trades they made, acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. If Lowry doesn't return in the regular-season, however, Ibaka and Tucker will head into the playoffs having never played or even practised with Lowry.
"The big picture was to have them have a chance to play with Kyle, and with our whole team, but that has been postponed now, but hey, we're patient and we'll continue to wait and Kyle will get better and you come back strong," Ujiri said.
The Raptors took a three-game winning streak into Monday's game against the Knicks. They also trailed Washington by percentage points for third in the Eastern Conference and three games back of second-place Boston. They face Washington in back-to-back games later this week.