TORONTO — Eyes turned and followed Kyle Lowry when he strode into the Air Canada Centre practice gym on Monday. Who’s the skinny guy in Lowry’s jersey, someone joked.
The Toronto Raptors’ traditional season-opening media day had an air of newness. But nothing was as remarkable as the new and improved Lowry, who had teammates and media alike marvelling at his off-season metamorphosis.
“I see him in the locker-room the other day. And I’m like ‘Man, I’ve never seen this before. You’ve always been this short, chunky, bulldog-fat kid that I’ve known since my first year in the NBA,'” Patrick Patterson recounted, prompting laughter from reporters. “I’m like ‘Seeing you like this, it’s like the evil twin brother or something. I don’t know.’
“It’s just weird but I’m happy for him. He looks great. Talking to him, he said he feels great so I’m proud of him.”
The Raptors point guard is coming off a roller-coaster season that saw him earn NBA all-star honours then struggle down the stretch. The Raptors set a franchise record with 49 wins, and won the Atlantic Division title. But they were swept by the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the playoffs.
Lowry went into the off-season vowing to turn things around. His body was a big part of that.
“Sometimes you get older, you’ve got to change your body a little bit. And I’m not a young pup no more, but it’s just about the future for me, it’s about being healthy,” Lowry said.
The 29-year-old, who’s listed at six foot one and 196 pounds, hired a nutritionist, and said he changed the way he ate. He wouldn’t say how much weight he’d lost, but it was a couple of belt loops at least.
“None of my pants fit, I can tell you that much. Dead serious,” he said.
The change was clear in his lean face, cut arms and narrow waist.
“I feel faster, I feel a lot lighter, I feel quicker, I feel sharper. I still feel strong because when I go in the weight room, I still move the same weight I’ve always moved,” he said — then added to a reporter: “I can still bench press you.”
His wife is a fan.
“It’s nice having abs, I can walk around with my shirt off, my wife’s like ‘wow.’ She likes me,” he said, laughing.
Lowry averaged 17.8 points a night last season, his best games coming before February’s all-star game. His playoff numbers told the tale of his disappointing second half of the season: 12.3 points a game, down from 21.1 a year earlier.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey believes Lowry’s fitness will help him sustain a high level of play throughout the season, and applauded his hard work.
“Believe me, Kyle put his nose to the grind and did that all himself. He’s the one who had his own trainer. He had his own regimen that he went through this summer that most of our guys probably couldn’t make it through,” Casey said. “He ran the hills in Vegas, he did a lot of stuff that he did on his own.
“And my hat is off to him for doing that because he could’ve relaxed and took the summer off but he didn’t. He knew what he had to do and he did it.”
Like Patterson, DeMar DeRozan first learned of Lowry’s transformation via a photo posted on Instagram.
“It was a shock, it was a shock to everybody, it was a shock to me so I made him come see me in L.A. to make sure it’s real,” DeRozan said. “That’s big. That takes a lot of discipline, when you play at a certain size your whole career in the league, to be able to drop that much weight. When he came to see me in L.A. I didn’t believe it when I seen him. But he did it.
“I think he’s trying to be more athletic, trying to play above the rim or something. . . he’s a lot quicker, a lot more aerodynamic,” he added, with a devilish grin.
The sting of last season’s ugly ending lingered for a while for DeRozan and Lowry, but the two said the best thing to do was learn from it and move on.
“Nobody wanted to go out like that, especially with how we started off the season and expectations everybody had for us,” DeRozan said.
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri certainly didn’t want the team to go out like that, and thus made several off-season changes.
Among the new faces in camp, which opens Tuesday in Vancouver: forwards DeMarre Carroll and Luis Scola, and Canadians Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett.
Follow Lori Ewing on Twitter @Ewingsports
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press