NBA Rumor: Raptors Front Office

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Masai Ujiri not in a rush to sign an extension

Ujiri is a pending free agent again. His eighth season with the team is also the final year of his current contract, and all signals are that he is in no rush to sign an extension. The people he works for? They would have signed him yesterday if they could. “I can promise you, it’s not [MLSE],” said a source with knowledge of the ownership’s thinking. “They’d have to be nuts not to [want to sign him]. It’s not like there’s a Plan A and a Plan B. There’s only Plan A, and it’s him. But he’s a very deliberate guy, and the kind of guy you have to respect his space.”

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Masai Ujiri: No extension talks with Raptors

Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, who has one year remaining on his contract, on Thursday said he has yet to enter discussions with team ownership about an extension. “No, I haven’t had discussions, and honestly, coming out of this, things are a little raw,” Ujiri said on a conference call with reporters. “I’m going to reflect a little bit, and we will address it when it’s time to address it.”

The first is one of availability. Is he willing to go and is Toronto willing to let him walk? He’s reportedly under contract through 2020-21, and the Raptors could presumably sign him to an extension if they wished. There is scuttlebutt out there that he’s itching for another challenge and has eyes for a large American market (this point also came up in league circles when the Washington job was open) and that the Raptors’ ownership might be okay letting somebody else pay him an eight-figure salary while they promote GM Bobby Webster.

Masai Ujiri eyeing Knicks?

Two longtime Ujiri-watchers whom I trust deeply for their reads on this situation have been telling me since December, when the Knicks fired Coach David Fizdale after a 4-18 start, that Ujiri intends to maneuver his way to the Knicks after his moves helped the Raptors win a championship last season. Both watchers went so far as to proclaim that Ujiri may even try to bring along Bobby Webster, Toronto’s well-regarded general manager.

Some league insiders also have questioned whether Dolan is as all-in on Ujiri as advertised, because of the perception in various corners that the league office (specifically N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver) is pushing Ujiri as the ideal candidate to try to rescue the Knicks. Memories of Ujiri famously fleecing the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade when he was in Denver in 2011, and again in the Andrea Bargnani trade in 2013, are likewise described as potential Dolan turnoffs.

But behind Ujiri, Webster has watched, learned — and risen to the point of being a key piece of the Raptors NBA championship. Webster will bristle at that description, but it’s true. If Ujiri is the ship captain, Webster is the navigator. “Bobby is making a lot of the decisions in terms of everything they do,” says one NBA player agent who works closely with the Raptors. “Masai is the lead role and the face of the program, and obviously very involved… but Bobby is the driving force, at least for me, for a lot of the decisions they make.”

Even though Ujiri wanted Webster for his experience with the NBA’s new salary cap rules, Webster wasn’t content with that job alone. He could have done that anywhere — back at the league’s head office, he was basically doing it for every team. If Webster was going to leave New York, he wanted more than a job: he wanted an education. He wanted to learn how a team was run on the inside. He wanted to scout, he wanted to deal with coaches, he wanted to interact with the analytics staff. Ujiri agreed. If Webster provided his salary cap insights, Ujiri assured him that he could work on whatever else he wanted. He even let Webster make up his own job title. He settled on “vice president of basketball management and strategy.”

The Raptors’ ownership, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, could have avoided some of this noise by simply giving Ujiri an extension and a blank cheque this past summer but – contrary to a report that Ujiri turned down an extension – there has never been one been offered, according to sources. Which is understandable in some ways. It’s not like Ujiri’s current deal didn’t have lucrative bonuses tied to winning a title. And in most businesses – even with NBA stars – discussion doesn’t typically begin for extensions until a year before a current deal expires.

There is probably no city in the world that would provide a greater opportunity for Ujiri to further the ambitions of his foundation than New York, where he could walk to the United Nations for lunch and meet potential billionaire donors for breakfast. It’s a global nerve centre for business and politics and it would be impossible for Ujiri to fail to expand his already considerable network there. If his ultimate goal is to further his causes in Africa, New York is a better base to work from. The question, really, is if there is anything MLSE can do to make Ujiri a semi-permanent piece of the Toronto landscape, to make the Knicks or other threats distant or far-fetched?

While Webster is the only general manager with Asian heritage in a league where fewer than 1 percent of players are Asian, he rejects any notion that he is an outlier. Instead, the easygoing, media-averse executive views his mixed background as a core strength. His exposure to multiple cultures in the small beach town of Kailua, Oahu, honed a work ethic that made him the NBA’s youngest GM, at age 32, when he was promoted in 2017. It also instilled an open-minded philosophy that has helped guide the Raptors through a major transition following Kawhi Leonard’s departure.

“In our household, it was never so explicit: this is Asian, this is white,” Webster said. “There were never limits placed on me. If you’re a white kid, that’s a different experience. If you’re a full Asian kid, you’re like everyone else [in Kailua]. If you’re mixed, you’re cool. We had Jeremy [Lin] on the Raptors and I talk to him a lot. He looks Asian, and [dealing with stereotypes or bias] was much more on someone like him. I don’t think I look super Asian or white. Being both was freeing. Both communities always accepted me. I had the best of both worlds.”

The Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday they have promoted Alex McKechnie to Vice President, Player Health and Performance and signed him to a contract extension. McKechnie joined the Raptors in 2011 to oversees all athletic training, rehabilitation and strength and conditioning for the franchise. He has been part of six NBA championship winning teams and is regarded as an industry leader in core training and movement integration. Prior to coming to Toronto, McKechnie worked for 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, including eight as the athletic performance coordinator.

On Tuesday, Ted Leonsis released a statement to The Washington Post in which he shared the plan to take his time in forming the franchise’s new leadership team. Leonsis also denied reports that the Wizards pursued Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, who constructed the roster that won the NBA championship last week. Tommy Sheppard, who has led the Wizards’ basketball operations on an interim basis for the past 11 weeks, will continue in the role through Thursday’s NBA draft and the start of free agency, which begins June 30.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Friday morning it is pursuing a misdemeanor complaint against Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri for battery of a police officer after an altercation following Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, a spokesman for the department told USA TODAY Sports. Ujiri is accused of twice shoving an officer and striking him in the face after he was stopped from coming onto the court to join the Raptors’ postgame celebration at the Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena because he did not display a proper credential, according to police. Video of the aftermath of that incident was captured by NBC Bay Area, which was the first to report the complaint against Ujiri.

Ujiri appears to be holding a credential in his right hand in the video, and he also appears to be holding a credential in the same hand in a video that shows him watching the end of the game from the tunnel — before the incident occurred. However, per NBA rules, only personnel with specially designated gold armbands were allowed on the court after the conclusion of the game, and it’s unclear if Ujiri was wearing one or had one in his possession. “We were told to strictly enforce the credentialing policy and not allow anyone onto the court without a credential, so our deputies were doing that,” Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said. “Our deputy contacted Mr. Masai Ujiri as he attempted to walk onto the court. He had no credential displayed, and our deputy asked for his credential.

Although an offer worth $10 million annually would place Ujiri among the league’s highest-paid executives, The Athletic previously reported that Ujiri’s decision likely would not come down to money. Raptors ownership, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, is loaded with revenue and could certainly increase Ujiri’s salary, which is somewhere in the $6 million to $7 million range currently, according to sources. “I know Masai. Masai is like my son. There’s no chance he’s leaving Toronto,” MLSE owner Larry Tanenbaum told reporters shortly after the conclusion of the Finals. “You can ask him that one, too. I know Masai.” Tanenbaum continued when asked what he would have to do to keep Ujiri: “I think if you asked Masai, he has everything he wants,” he said. “If you ask him, I think he’d say that. I know he’s here.”

The Wizards would, of course, have the issue of compensation. The Raptors made it clear it would take multiple first-rounders to land Ujiri when he semi-flirted with the Knicks a few years back, according to sources familiar with the situation. Would it take that this time? And if compensation is large enough, would the appeal of the job wane? The one thing the Wizards’ job has going for it on the basketball side, other than having Bradley Beal under contract for two more years, is that the team has all of its first-rounders. Technically, by the way, Toronto wouldn’t even need to grant Washington permission to speak with Ujiri, since he has two years remaining on his contract, per sources.

If Ujiri says no to the job, league sources believe Wizards VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard, who has been running the team in the interim since former president of basketball ops Ernie Grunfeld got fired 10 weeks ago, would be the favorite to land it, though it’s possible he doesn’t receive a long leash. One possibility would be Sheppard continuing to run the team with an interim tag on him, league sources believe. In that situation, he and the Wizards could decide a predetermined date to reevaluate his position. Another option could be him working the 2019-20 season on a one-year deal and then revisiting his job status next spring or summer.

The Wizards are preparing a six-year, $60 million offer for Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources tell The Athletic’s Fred Katz and David Aldridge. Washington has been waiting on Ujiri since mid-May and did not want to make an official run at him until the Raptors’ playoff run ended. Owner Ted Leonsis plans to request permission from Toronto sometime soon. The Raptors won their first title in franchise history when they defeated the Warriors 114-110 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

Michael Grange: MLSE owner Larry Tanenbaum when asked about @wojespn report that Wizards owner @TedLeonsis is attempting to recruit Masai Ujiri with a $10-million a year offer and an ownership stake:

2 years ago via ESPN

The Washington Wizards are preparing to offer Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri a deal that could approach $10 million annually and deliver him the opportunity for ownership equity, league sources tell ESPN. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is expected to reach out to Toronto ownership soon to request formal permission to meet with Ujiri and offer a staggering financial package that would include running the Wizards basketball operations and, perhaps, taking on a larger leadership role in the Monumental Sports and Entertainment company that oversees the Wizards and NHL’s Capitals, league sources said.

What Ujiri will talk about is Africa, specifically the dramatic, widening impact of Africa in the NBA. As the NBA continues to expand its borders, the road from Africa to the United States has become a well-paved superhighway, thanks in large part to people such as Ujiri and Amadou Fall, the godfather of African basketball. This has been the good news of the current NBA season and a point of pride for Ujiri. “I’m proud of where the game is going and the impact it’s having on the continent,” Ujiri said before Game 5 between Toronto and Milwaukee. “African players continue to grow and perform on the big stage. The NBA has taken huge steps to make progress on the continent.”

Fall, the NBA Africa vice president and managing director for Africa, said Ujiri is a living example of using the game. “You can be in the NBA in other ways, and I think Masai in the NBA is the biggest of all those,” Fall said from his office in Johannesburg. “He is running one of the best franchises in the league, and coming back every summer to give back, inspiring the next generation.” Fall added, “The stage and the platform Masai has is so special. I’m proud that he’s really doing his absolute best to give back and to grow the game, and to contribute to the efforts to grow Africa beyond just basketball.”

Consider Ujiri a significant long shot despite his attraction to the market, which comes in part to viewing Washington as a larger platform for the “Basketball Without Borders” program. Ujiri serves as director of the program that sponsors various basketball camps and coaching clinics in his native Africa. His wife also grew up in the D.C. area. Ujiri, 48, joined Toronto in 2013 and signed an extension in 2016. The Raptors are unlikely to let Ujiri interview for any current opening, including the Lakers’, according to a league source. The Los Angeles position opened when Magic Johnson abruptly resigned during the final week of the regular season, but the Lakers are not expected to fill the vacancy.
2 years ago via ESPN

Jon Horst, Masai Ujiri top candidates for Executive of the Year

The votes for Executive of the Year are in. Unlike the other major awards, it is not voted on by the media but instead by the teams themselves. Each team gets one vote and you can’t vote for yourself. It’s a bit of a complicated award as often it’s a product of moves over multiple seasons that typically earn peer recognition. Milwaukee Bucks GM Jon Horst, who is in only his second season, and Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri are expected to be two of the top candidates. Both oversaw wide-ranging changes to upgrade their teams, changing coaches and core players.

It also includes the periphery relationship-building that is equally important, learning who matters most inside said player’s inner circle and, in essence, what makes them tick. The gray area that comes with recruiting is where it gets trickier, not only because of tampering rules that govern such matters (albeit not very well) but because of the tougher-to-define desire across the league for some professional courtesy in such matters. Yet the Raptors officials with whom I spoke, and who are hoping their mid-July trade with San Antonio to make him their centerpiece wasn’t a one-year rental, expressed no concern over the Clippers’ style. And if what transpired after that Raptors-Clippers game is any indication, it’s quite clear that this isn’t about getting Leonard to notice them or their efforts.
2 years ago via ESPN

“It’s been like that with Kyle since I came here,” Ujiri said of their neutral but professional relationship. “We’ve never — we don’t have a confrontation. We don’t — I’ve never done anything wrong to him. It’s just this kind of decision-making that we have to go through. And I know how Kyle is, so honestly, I love him to death. “He plays basketball the right way. He gives it his all, you know. And I’m so used to it. And you know he has a good heart. And I know that I haven’t done anything wrong to him. I didn’t trade him.”

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry hasn’t been president Masai Ujiri’s biggest fan since he traded his backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs over the summer. ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked the pressing question, one that Lowry’s icy response got the message across just fine. Nichols: How would you define your relationship with Masai Ujiri right now? Lowry: “He’s the president of basketball operations. That’s it. I come here and do my job.” Nichols: That answer leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Lowry: “He does his job, I do my job, right? That’s what you do.” Nichols: That’s where you stand? Lowry: “That’s where we stand.”

Along with the high risk, however, comes a high reward, which is why the Raptors were willing to make the deal. Should Leonard prove to be healthy, they’ll be one of the main contenders to win the Eastern Conference this season. Plus, they’ll have the next nine months to convince Leonard to stay in Toronto and re-sign for the long term. So how does Raptors president Masai Ujiri plan on going about that? Well, he explained as much on a recent appearance on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast, The Woj Pod. “We are who we are. We are going to be prepared, we are going to make things as smooth… I think you want to be genuine, you want to be real. You know, this is who we are. We might not be the best ones in weather, but we might be the best ones in many other places: the diversity, the city, the uniqueness of a place like [Toronto], fans, the atmosphere. I think those things are so unique, it’s beginning to show everywhere.”

Working in media has helped Carter become more candid over the years, and the former Raptor didn’t mince words when asked about Masai Ujiri’s decision to trade longtime franchise pillar DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for disgruntled Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. “We all look at it like DeMar has done so many great things there, which he has,” Carter said. “He deserves to finish his career there, especially if he wanted to, like we all know he did. It’s just one of those things where the organization, I guess they saw it different. They wanted to take advantage of an opportunity and who knows if it works or not? If it works, everybody forgets about it. If it doesn’t, it blows up in their face. I think that’s how these things work, and it’s an unfortunate situation.”

But the way the Toronto Raptors and general manager Masai Ujiri operated in trading DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs along with other assets for Kawhi Leonard didn’t sit well with the Wizards point guard. Wall is friends with DeRozan and can’t help but feel for the guy after how everything went down. “It was interesting. In my opinion, I don’t think there was loyalty shown on DeRozan’s part,” Wall said. “This is a business and you understand that. [But], if you talk to me man-to-man, then just be honest with me. We’re all grown men.”
3 years ago via ESPN

Chris Haynes: In that same news conference, he talked about how he gave the team a chance when he took his role. Do you think it was necessary for the organization to make that move and trade you? Why didn’t things work out? DeMar DeRozan: I mean, when you say “them,” that’s kind of frustrating. Like, who is “them”? You put the blame on just me and Casey? Because obviously we are the only two who had to suffer from the loss that we had in the Cleveland series. But it’s only one team that we lost to in the postseason — and that team went to the [NBA] Finals every single year. With an opportunity approaching itself, my mindset and the rest of my teammates’ mindset was the only guy who was in the way of making that happen leaves. Now we got a great opportunity to do something that we haven’t been able to do. At the end of the day, I gave everything I had to that team. And it showed, it showed in the progress we made as a team and me as an individual. So when you put that out there saying “gave them chances” and “I have to do something” … it’s B.S. to me.
3 years ago via ESPN

Chris Haynes: You and Masai go way back. Did that hurt you more, the fact that you did have that relationship with him? DeMar DeRozan: No question. I mean, when you use the word “family,” “brother” or whatever, things other people use lightly … for me, once you use that term, I stick by that term. I stand by that term. So whether it’s something I like or don’t like, I’m going to accept it if you come to me and let me know beforehand. But don’t make one thing seem like another thing and catch me off-guard and do something else. That was my whole problem. I understand how the game works, how the business works. My mindset was that I was always going to be in Toronto my whole career, but I was never naive. Just let me know. That’s where my frustration came from. And I think it showed. From the fans to even myself — it just caught me completely off-guard.
3 years ago via ESPN

DeMar DeRozan: I felt like I wasn’t treated with what I sacrificed for nine years, with the respect that I thought I deserved. By just giving me the say so of letting me know something’s going on or it’s a chance. That’s all I wanted. That’s all I wanted. I’m not saying, ‘You don’t have to trade me’ or … just let me know something is going on because I sacrificed everything. Just let me know. That’s all I asked. Everybody know I’m the most low-maintenance person in the world. Just let me know, so I can prepare myself for whatever my next chapter is, and I didn’t get that.

Raptors​ President​ Masai​ Ujiri was emotional in explaining how​ a woman​ changed​ the course​ of​ his​​ career in basketball management. He expressed how he might not be where he is today without the help of Kim Bohuny, the NBA’s Senior Vice President of International Basketball Operations. “Kim is the reason I’m here, OK?” Ujiri said while choking up. “So, 15 years ago, I got a phone call from Kim Bohuny, and she asked me to come to be director of Basketball Without Borders. My life changed. Today, I’m the President of the Toronto Raptors. I was an unpaid scout when I got that call from Kim Bohuny, so here are some women that are changing lives, and changed this life right here.”

Ujiri has entrusted women with roles in Toronto’s front office. When he became general manager in Toronto, his first call was to Teresa Resch, who had worked with him on the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camps while she was at the league office. She was promoted to Vice President of Basketball Operations and Player Development in 2015. “That right there is the Toronto Raptors, right there,” Ujiri said, pointing to Resch as the audience clapped for her. “We talked about lifting women, we talked about believing in women, and when we went out and made a lot of hires, we did not hire them because they were women. We hired them because they were the best. They were the best candidates for the job, and that’s what they serve as, and they stand up tall, and they lead the Toronto Raptors. And we listen to them. Teresa is the chief of staff. Everything she says goes.”
3 years ago via TSN

When Ujiri was finally able to take some time and evaluate what went wrong and how to best move forward, he looked beyond personnel. He spent most of May reviewing the team’s day-to-day procedures – how they practised, trained, travelled and interacted with one another – and asked himself: Can we do this better? “The culture change is about the whole organization,” Casey, who worked closely with Ujiri to reinvent the team’s philosophy over the summer, said last week. “It’s not about offense and defense. Believe me, when he mentioned that, it was about all of us. Everything we do. From scouting, training, how we go about our day in the front office, it’s included in that.”

It’s not often that DeMar DeRozan seals a victory for his head coach by missing a game-tying shot, but that’s what happened Sunday, Feb. 18th, at the NBA All-Star Game. Dwane Casey, courtesy of Toronto holding the East’s best record, coached Team LeBron to victory, mere weeks after winning his 300th career game with the Raptors. “It was fitting,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said in an interview with SB Nation. “With all the things he’d done for the franchise, for him to be able to have a moment on a national stage, in L.A. and at the all-star game, and the team wins. He deserves it.”

Last season, after enduring another sweep, this time at the hands of the Cavaliers, Masai Ujiri infamously announced the Raptors needed a “culture reset.” It read like the final nail in the coffin for Casey’s tenure in Toronto. Bobby Webster has an alternative explanation. “We felt like we were better than a 4-0 sweep,” Webster said. “It was really just Masai’s challenge to all of us. Let’s take a look at what we’ve done, and let’s be proud of how we’ve gotten here, but if we really wanna be a championship contending team, we need to make some changes.”

In the days following that low point, the Raptors’ internal braintrust burned the midnight oil to put Ujiri’s “culture reset” into action. When Webster and Ujiri asked Casey what he saw, they were, in Webster’s words, “exactly on the same page.” The league was passing the Raptors’ plodding, isolation style by. And so the mandate was born: more ball movement, more spacing, more running, and an increased focus on developing their young talent. “[Culture reset] suggests that change is coming. But that doesn’t mean you have to change personnel,” Webster said. “People can change.”

Related: the 31-14 Raptors they are just 2-4 in games decided by three points or less. Would some more knock down three-point shooting around DeRozan help come clutch time? With the trade deadline coming into view it would seem that the Raptors would be wise to comb the rosters of teams that are likely punting on the playoffs in a search for additional shooting if they’re going to shoot as much as they do from three. But it’s not a turnkey solution and the organizational philosophy seems to be to look beyond a short-term fix in favour of longer-term, internal development.

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]!’

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.”
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January 23, 2021 | 8:06 pm EST Update

Timberwolves keeping Ryan Saunders for now

Ryan Saunders will remain coach of the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves, at least until he gets an opportunity to coach a stretch with star Karl-Anthony Towns in the regular lineup. “I haven’t even talked to (basketball president Gersson Rosas) about that — he hasn’t brought it up, but you’re asking me, and it’s probably hard to tell a guy that you aren’t doing the job when your best guy isn’t playing,” Wolves owner Glen Taylor said Saturday from his home in Mankato.
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For most of a year, Taylor has explored a sale of the Wolves and Lynx. How’s that coming? “Well, it’s not coming is the best way to say it,” Taylor said. “I haven’t found anything that for sure says I should move ahead.” Taylor’s price tag for the Wolves and Lynx is estimated to be in the $1.5 billion range. With NBA expansion — Las Vegas and Seattle have been mentioned — current team owners could each be in for a reported $160 million expansion fee windfall. “Obviously I’m aware of that — you’ve got to pick your time,” Taylor said, adding that no definite decision for expansion has been made. “The other question: Is now a good time to sell when you don’t have fans? And it’s not a good time.”