He has done it before. Masai Ujiri has taken a group of talented young players, modified the roster here and there, and built an NBA championship team. There is a feeling that you are really excited about the possibility of doing it again.

It won’t be easy, nothing really memorable is, but the vigor with which the new Raptors vice president and president is approaching the future is palpable. He’s “home” as he calls it, and he’s ready to start the steady climb to the top again.

“I said it here when I sat here eight years ago, we are going to develop players and we are going to build on that,” Ujiri said in an extensive press session that lasted about an hour on Wednesday afternoon. “I say it again: we are going to continue developing these players and we are going to find a way to win a championship here based on the development of our players.

“And whatever comes out of that, sometimes trades, sometimes acquired through free agency, we’re just not going to sit here crying because the players won’t come here. That is not what it is about.

“I think we’ve gotten over that.”

The Raptors have gotten over that because Ujiri worked on an original plan almost seamlessly from 2013 until the team won the 2019 NBA championship. It’s been a crazy ride ever since – a great team in 2019-20 had their season derailed. For COVID-19, last year’s Raptors lived in Tampa, Florida, and missed the playoffs, but the respected executive has the fight left in him.

He had options, inside and outside sports, but the opportunity to expand his horizons a bit to global issues and a job fueling his competitive fire brought him back to the Raptors.

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“I think there will be things that we will have to do as an organization that… maybe even separate from the job, my job description as president of basketball operations,” he said. “I look at the social justice and even the opportunities for the BIPOC community here, I think there will be more than we will have to do.”

At the heart, however, are the Raptors. Ujiri said he sees a bunch of young and old, young players like Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, all with championship pedigree combined with rookies like Scottie Barnes, Khem Birch, Chris Boucher and Dalano Banton, and his basketball heart beats faster. Quick. It’s not an established three-star super team, but there are homegrown talents and that has always fueled Ujiri.

“There will be super teams and super, super teams, there will be three superstars in one team … We are not going to go down that road, at least not for now,” he said. “Our path is to grow our young players and be excited about what we have, and trust Nick (Nurse, the team’s coach) and his great staff.

“That is the growth of the game and that is what we want to feel as an organization, and I know that is what the fans, the media really appreciate, seeing the growth of our team.”

There was a cost to the Ujiri reboot: Kyle Lowry. Before even beginning to answer questions Wednesday, Ujiri paid tribute to the guard he considers the greatest Raptor of all time, but a veteran who just doesn’t fit in now.

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“We knew this was coming,” Ujiri said of Lowry’s departure as a free agent. “Our team management was younger and Kyle still has these incredible goals.

“Kyle wanted to be here too, if that’s what we were trying to do. We saw our team as being somewhere in the middle a little bit and we wanted to be a little bit younger so we could start to grow, almost like when Kyle was here at the beginning. “

Something like Ujiri at the beginning. A cornerstone that could last a while. He did not want to disclose the length of his new contract, but there is no question what he wants to achieve.

“Forever,” he joked about the length of their deal. “No, honestly… I’m home, man.

“That’s it. We will try to win in the best way possible. It’s a commitment. I’ve always said that when you make that commitment, you do it. That’s what I said eight years ago. I think we honor it as a family. And that’s what we intend to always do “.


The conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these views.


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