Storyline: Raptors Front Office

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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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November 17, 2017 | 10:03 pm EST Update