SBD/June 5, 2013/Franchises

Ujiri Short On Specifics In Opening Press Conference, Plays Down Issue With Colangelo

Ujiri said he will be responsible for all of the Raptors' basketball decisions
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was introduced to the media yesterday, and he said there is "zero issue" in regard to his relationship with team President Bryan Colangelo, who gave up control of the team's basketball operations two weeks ago, according to Jeff Blair of the GLOBE & MAIL. Ujiri at least twice mentioned that he is "on what he called 'the hot seat' -- not Colangelo, whose title is now president of team and business operations." That would "seem to mean" Colangelo "gets some swell coloured pencils but [is] kept away from the expensive toys, maybe helping to help sketch out new uniforms as the Raptors begin a much-needed rebranding of a name that is sorely dated" (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/5). In Toronto, Doug Smith writes, "It is evident that the buzzword for the immediate Raptors future -- and that’s the next few weeks if not the next few months -- is patience." Ujiri said, "I’ll take Bryan’s input when I feel it’s necessary and [Raptors Senior Basketball Adviser Wayne Embry] has always been a great mentor to me but at the end of he day, I am going to put my staff together and we are going to figure this all out collectively. Basketball decisions are going to be my decision. It doesn’t matter who tells me what, or how it’s done at the end of the day I’m sitting right here on the hotseat" (TORONTO STAR, 6/5).

TIGHT LIPPED: In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes Ujiri was "short on specifics and long on clichés" at the press conference and "wasn’t about to let any state secrets slip in his first official day" as Raptors GM. His "lack of clarity was both startling and intentional," but he "passes the boob metre without question." Ujiri "isn’t a dud." While past Raptors GMs were "disasters on Day 1," there is "none of that here" (TORONTO SUN, 6/5). In Denver, Adrian Dater writes the Nuggets "made the right call" in letting Ujiri go, rather than matching the Raptors' "ridiculous," reported five-year, $15M contract. Ujiri was a "good GM, but no savior," and "anybody who can read the results from the first round of the NBA playoffs the past two years would know that." Dater: "Since when did Ujiri become a brilliant strategist anyway?" The fact that the Nuggets "haven't gotten out of the first round of the playoffs the past two years is one of the more underachieving NBA stories in that time." Yet Ujiri "gets rewarded with a five-year contract as a result by another team" (DENVER POST, 6/5).

PIONEERING SPIRIT: Ujiri said that the "pressure he feels as a pioneer -- the first African-born NBA GM -- weighs on him more than anything else in his professional life." He added, "That’s the only place in my life where I actually feel pressure." In Toronto, Steve Buffery notes Ujiri is a "former director of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa program and also conducts basketball camps in his native Nigeria." Ujiri said, "For me, financially, this really helps me in Africa, because I can go and do more and can go and help more people. ... Being the first African GM, being executive of the year, all that stuff is, for me, on the side. I have to create an opportunity for people over there" (TORONTO SUN, 6/5). Also in Toronto, Lance Hornby wrote Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment President & CEO Tim Leiweke was "proud to have landed" Ujiri. But no such need is "pressing with the Leafs" with team GM Dave Nonis "on the job barely six months and the Leafs in better developmental shape than the Raptors." Leiweke said, "(The Leafs) were good enough to let me do what I had to do (with Ujiri) first. They know how passionate I am about hockey. There could have been some reference that maybe (the Raptors) were a higher priority. It was just about patience. This team was the most pressing because of the time restraint I was under, having not started (officially) until yesterday. At the end of the day, I made the decision to stay out of (Leaf management’s) way and let them go through what they had to go through" (TORONTO SUN, 6/4).
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