Raptors' Masai Ujiri Lauded For Moves In Building Title Team
The Raptors won their first NBA title on Thursday, and it comes after President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri "rolled the dice 11 months ago" by trading for Kawhi Leonard and firing Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey, as Ujiri has now "delivered what he promised on the day he was first hired," according to Steve Simmons of the TORONTO SUN. The Raptors "used to be an NBA punchline, or just a team no one paid much attention to." The team Ujiri put together "was unexpected from the first day of the playoffs to the final emotional ending on Thursday night" (TORONTO SUN, 6/14). In Toronto, Bruce Arthur writes it "used to be that the only inevitability" surrounding the Raptors was "failure." But "finally, the inevitability came to them." The past for the team is a "list of heartbreaks." But people "stuck with this team, inside the organization and out, and the congregation grew" (TORONTO STAR, 6/14). The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly writes for "most of a quarter century, the Raptors’ were the league’s longest running sitcom." However, three personnel choices "changed that." MLSE "hired Tim Leiweke to run the corporation; Leiweke hired Ujiri to run the Raptors," and Ujiri hired Leonard to "run the NBA." Kelly: "Really, that was it" (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/14). THE RINGER's Paolo Uggetti writes this championship for a franchise that "had never had one, and this superstar on a team that had been desperate for one, would never have materialized had it not been for Ujiri." He built the team with "savvy decision-making and boldness, with good hires and risks" (THERINGER.com, 6/14).
PUSH ME, PULL ME: MLSE Chair Larry Tanenbaum early this morning addressed a report that said the Wizards could potentially try and lure Ujiri to head up their basketball operations. Tanenbaum said there is "no chance" Ujiri would leave the Raptors. Tanenbaum: "If you ask Masai he's got everything he wants" (TWITTER.com, 6/14). Tanenbaum's comments come after ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski cited sources as saying that the Wizards are preparing to offer Ujiri a "deal that could approach" $10M annually and "deliver him the opportunity for ownership equity." Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis is "expected to reach out to Toronto ownership soon" for permission to meet with Ujiri. The offer "would include running the Wizards' basketball operations and, perhaps, taking on a larger leadership role" in Monumental Sports & Entertainment. Ujiri has two years left on his deal" (ESPN.com, 6/13). ESPN Radio's Jason Fitz said MLSE is "one of the richest organizations in sports," and there is "virtually no offer they can't match should they choose to" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 6/14). ESPN's Max Kellerman said the Wizards signing Ujiri for $10M annually would be "on the cheap." Kellerman: "If you have a problem with your team, the answer is to hire this dude" ("First Take," ESPN, 6/14).
UNLIKELY HERO: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen writes the Raptors are "one of the strangest championship teams the NBA has ever seen." This is a team "without a lottery pick but with a foundational superstar player who might be gone after just one season." This is also a team that "pursued a surprisingly rare strategy: the Raptors did everything in their power to win a championship this year" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/14). THE RINGER writes under the header, "The Raptors May Be The Unlikeliest Champions In NBA History" (6/14). THE ATHLETIC goes with: "NBA Championship Validates Raptors’ Arduous Path To The Top" (6/14). AFP: "Gambles By Ujiri Pay Off With NBA Crown For Raptors" (6/13).
ONE-OF-A-KIND: ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote the Raptors "might be the most unconventionally constructed championship team in basketball history," and this title has insiders across the league asking: "Is there anything we can learn? Can we replicate what Toronto just did?" The Raptors look like "proof of the value in staying good -- proof that tearing down isn't the only way to go from 50-win playoff also-ran to champion." There are "rare teams that remain competitive, tinker around their best player, and finally break through" (ESPN.com, 6/13).