Storyline: Raptors Front Office

41 rumors in this storyline

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry knew this season would be different the day after the Toronto Raptors’ latest ignominious postseason departure — a second-round sweep to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers that prompted team president Masai Ujiri to say the organization needed a “culture reset.” The Raptors’ All-Star duo and potential buddy-cop movie tandem didn’t exactly know what that meant nor to what extent. “He said we needed a culture change, and I didn’t know if I was a part of that culture change or not,” Lowry, who was entering free agency last summer, told Yahoo Sports. “I wanted to be here, but you never know. You’re kind of like, ‘[Expletive]!’

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Make no mistake, though—this is all by design, part of the “culture reset” that GM Masai Ujiri insisted upon after the Raptors were clubbed by the Cavs in a four-game second-round sweep in last year’s playoffs, and that Coach Dwane Casey has implemented, seemingly seamlessly; after a middling start, Toronto has roared toward the top of the East standings. All the attention has been on the Celtics, but the Raptors are just a game behind them in the loss column, in second place in the East with a very favorable schedule in front of them. And they’ve done it with an emphasis on ball movement and threes that has improved what was already a pretty potent offense.

Change, in other words, would need to come from within. Enter Nick Nurse, a 50-year-old assistant coach who was charged with shaking up the offense. After a recent practice, Nurse was explaining the general importance of passing the basketball when he motioned to Jonas Valanciunas, the team’s starting center. Valanciunas, Nurse said, was no longer tethered to the low post. “This guy loves it,” Nurse said. “He’s touching the ball a lot more.” He added: “I think for a lot of the roster, it’s a lot of fun. It might not be as much fun for the guys who aren’t quite used to it yet.”

LeBron James has ruled the East for seven straight springs – and will still be favored to make it eight, regardless of how the Irving saga ends. Kyle Lowry expressed the helplessness of the conference’s other 14 teams while the Cavaliers were in the midst of their second-round sweep of Toronto when he stated, “nobody is closing the gap on him.” DeMar DeRozan said after the series that the Raptors would’ve won – if they had James. Ujiri is approaching the challenge from another perspective. “Our job is to beat him,” Ujiri recently told The Vertical. “You have to figure it out. If not, then go play in some other league or something. Go play in Greece. Our jobs, and the jobs of the players, [are] to figure out how to beat those guys. If not, you might as well give them the championship before it starts. I understand how good he is and I understand how good those teams are, but those things end. At some point, somewhere, somehow, we as leaders of our group, we have to figure out a way and motivate our players and give them the confidence to go out there and compete.”

“To me, sports is all about expectations. You play to win. Nobody should be afraid of it. If you are expected to win, win. It’s that simple. The people that believe in it, that are expected to win, we must win,” Ujiri told The Vertical. “I think we gave ourselves a two-, three-year window, but I think a couple of teams decided to go the other way. I know people say the East is bad, but every NBA team is good. Even the teams that are rebuilding, that’s a game every night. We lost a bunch of games last year to teams that supposedly you’re supposed to beat. Everybody thinks that the East is going to be weaker. I think it’s because of the teams rebuilding.”

Do you worry about Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri departing for the New York Knicks? DeRozan: I don’t worry about that. I think [he stays]. I look at it like, if I’m New York who is the next best guy you could go after? It’s Masai. Why wouldn’t they want to target him? I don’t look at it like it’s a bad thing. Masai has that reputation because he is great at what he does. That organization wants to be great so they can feel like they can compete. So, what is the first thing you do? You go look for the next great person.

Dolan’s interest in Toronto executive Masai Ujiri is real, not to mention the preferred choice of the folks inside the NBA’s league offices who want nothing more than this Knicks machine to run smoothly one day. There’s already a built-in connection as well: Tim Leiweke, the former CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment group who hired Ujiri as Toronto’s general manager in 2013, is serving as a Knicks consultant. He’s the CEO of the sports and entertainment consulting firm, the Oak View Group, as well as a partner of Irving Azoff, the longtime friend of Dolan’s who played a significant role in bringing Jackson to the Knicks.

And when I told Don Nelson – my roommate in Boston – that he was going to take over, he said “I’m not ready to coach.” I told him, “Nellie, you’re the coach. So let’s go for it.” He grew with the team and became obviously a Hall of Fame coach. That’s the reward, when you make decisions like that and they turn out well. That’s the pleasure I get now in an advisory capacity with Toronto. I tell the team when I speak to them before the season, my greatest joy is seeing others succeed.

With Toronto already boasting one of the best records in the league, Ujiri stressed he and his staff would not settle for a bad deal. If the right trade doesn’t present itself, the Raptors will not force anything just for the sake of making a move. “We find ourselves in a special place, which is second in the East,” Ujiri said. “There is a window with Kyle Lowry, DeMar [DeRozan] and DeMarre [Carroll] with those kind of guys in their prime and we will take advantage. But we’re not making bad deals. It doesn’t help business, it doesn’t help your future. Trust me, if a deal is not made just know there was nothing on the table for us that would really enhance our team.”

Masai Ujiri gets contract extension

The Toronto Raptors announced Friday they have signed President Masai Ujiri to a multi-year contract extension and promoted Jeff Weltman to general manager and Bobby Webster to assistant general manager/vice-president basketball strategy. Ujiri will continue to oversee basketball operations as president of the club. “I am grateful to the Board and Mr. Tanenbaum for the opportunity to continue our progress to build the Raptors into one of the top franchises in the NBA,” said Ujiri. “I’m also excited that Jeff and Bobby are being rewarded for their hard work and valuable contributions to our program. My family thanks the NBA, Raptors players and coaches, staff, Raptors fans, the city of Toronto and Canada for this opportunity. Toronto is home for us.”
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January 19, 2018 | 5:25 am EST Update
Sorry to shut down the party, but a Davis-to-the-Celtics deal isn’t happening any time soon. During an appearance on “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski explained why Davis will remain in a Pelicans jersey. “New Orleans has no intention of trading Anthony Davis,” Woj said. “Boston’s uniquely positioned in that they have draft picks and young players and all the things — if a team was gonna trade Anthony Davis — all the things you’d want. But [the Pelicans] aren’t trading Anthony Davis… He wants to make it work in New Orleans. He wants to get into the playoffs.”
Storyline: Anthony Davis to Celtics?
That being said, Jazz players acknowledge they have to be better at tuning out the outside chatter. If anything, the Jazz want to use the uncertainty to galvanize them. Favors said he’s taken to creating diversions for himself. He plays video games. He watches television. He tries to stay off social media. “We can’t pay attention to it,” Favors said. “We have to let them do all of the talking, the reporters, the fans, the people on twitter. We can’t pay attention to it. We see it. Everyone has their trade ideas. But for me, I try not to pay attention. If [a trade happens] it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m going to play hard regardless.”
Frank is suffering from a kidney ailment serious enough that DeRozan has left the team twice already this season to spend an extra day with him when and where he can. Having the all-star weekend in L.A. means another visit home and a chance to share it with the man who shared so many all-star memories with him. “I want my family to always experience the things they don’t get to see every single day,” he said earlier Thursday to a small group of reporters before his spot as a starter had been announced. “It’s really like a dream when you think about it,” he continued. “Especially with me being the kind of basketball fan I was growing up and watching every single all-star game. I remember it was in L.A. [in 2004] and just being amazed that it was in L.A. I wasn’t around none of the festivities [he was 13 at the time], but just to feel that energy now years later and for me to have the opportunity to not just be in it but start in it, it makes me feel like a kid all over again. It’s a humbling thing. Everything about it is something I would never believe.”
Storyline: All-Star Selections
Then following Thursday night’s game against the Celtics, which the 76ers’ won on the road, Joel was asked about the possibility of a date with Rihanna in his post-game interview, which he surprisingly isn’t down for anymore. Joel joking said that he might need to pass on her now since she turned him down a few years ago. “She denied me back then so why go with her again. I have to pass and move on to the next one,” Joel said on TNT, before ending the interview with “Trust the Process.”
Of course, what I found most interesting was actually the guys who got multiple votes from their compatriots without being All-Star caliber players. My favorite list of player-voted non-All-Stars includes: Michael Beasley (4), Gordon Hayward (2), Boban Marjanovic (2), Jahlil Okafor (4), Quincy Acy (2), Tyler Zeller (4), T.J. McConnell (2), Elfrid Payton (2), Zaza Pachulia (3), Taj Gibson (6), Zach Randolph (5), Maurice Harkless (2), Deyonta Davis (3), Lonzo Ball (9), Mike Conley (3).
Storyline: All-Star Selections