Masai Ujiri’s quiet brilliance

on June 2016 | in Sports | by Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart | with No Comments

The Toronto Raptors’ General Manager Masai Ujiri had quite a week for himself and yet it may get over looked. Apparently, some hockey phenom named Auston Matthews was drafted first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs and subsequently anointed as the saviour. But positive things are happening in Raptorland this week where the hard work and genius that is Masai Ujiri continue to come to the forefront. His positive, friendly and honest demeanor have helped elevate the respect of the Raptors and the city of Toronto around the league. It’s not that it was poor in recent years, but it never had a winning reputation or one for management stability. Bryan Colangelo, one of Masai Ujiri’s mentors helped lead the way and Ujiri followed. This week alone, his brilliance shone and he didn’t speak a word about it. He did this through a failed trade, a draft selection and a possible free agent signing.

If you were following on Twitter Thursday night you may have heard that Ujiri was trying to acquire Serge Ibaka from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The power forward addresses the Raptors greatest need. The price was believed to be Patrick Patterson, Lucas ‘bebe’ Nogueira and the 9th pick. This would have been exciting and Ujiri would have fulfilled one of two main offseason goals. The other being to sign DeMar DeRozan but we’ll get to him later. The trade never materialized as the Orlando Magic came in offering substantially more. They traded shooting guard Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th pick Domantas Sabonis, son of legendary basketball start Arvydas Sabonis. I am sure there was an opportunity for Ujiri to up the ante but as much as Ibaka could help the Raptors, overpaying for him would cause other issues. The Toronto GM is in no rush and patience has served him well. As GM for the Denver Nuggets he waited and waited and got more than full market value when he traded Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you never make and I feel that this will turn out to be one of those.

So now that Ujiri is keeping his draft pick (for the time being) he understands that most likely he will not get that stud power forward through the draft. With the 9th overall pick, the Raptors select Jakob Poeltl (pronounced Ya-kub Pur-tle) from the University of Utah. The 7’1″ Austrian has great potential of filling in as a backup centre as it’s not likely that Bismack Biyombo will stay. As I said before, with Jonas Valanciunas playing the way he does, the Raptors can only afford to pay Biyombo backup money. Several teams will make him a starter and paying him as one too. That’s why the Raptors can’t compete on Biz and that is why Ujiri chose Poeltl, who by the way is already good friends with a current raptor. PG Delon Wright, the Raptors first round pick from last year, played with Poeltl in Utah. It will be sad to see the charismatic Biyombo go. He has said that he will be patient in listening to contract offers to give the Raptors time to figure out if a deal is possible, but I think that has more to do with how much he respects Masai Ujiri rather than it actually happening.

The respect though doesn’t just stop with him either, DeMar DeRozan has it too. DeMar DeRozan has chosen to enter free agency and the Compton born shooting guard is going to cash in big, and deservedly so. Whether it is with the Lakers, Knicks, Clippers or any other interested team, he will get close too if not max money and that’s getting kinda close to #1 free agent Kevin Durant. It became public knowledge recently what teams Durant was going to meet with. So apparently when DeRozan was asked, he mentioned he had no need to talk to other teams unless talks with the Raptors break down. What? Excuse me? He won’t talk to anyone else other than Toronto and Masai?

Toronto for the longest time was the cold, painfully taxed Siberia of the NBA landscape. No one wanted to play here and if you were drafted you left when you could. That Toronto doesn’t exist anymore and neither do those Raptors. Last year we had one 2x All-Star and future Olympian in Kyle Lowry resign. This year we have 2x All-Star and future Olympian DeMar DeRozan who wants to stay. Over the past few years the Raptors have gotten better, winning more and more games. Winning does help a positive culture take hold, but it was Masai Ujiri’s leadership and character that helped create it to begin with.

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