Masai Ujiri talks up Raptors’ chances for 2020
Masai Ujiri knows a thing or two about the ability of the Toronto Raptors, having just masterminded a surprise 2018/19 championship ring for his side. However, with their key man Kawhi Leonard having headed to Los Angeles, many wondered how much further Ujiri could take them.
They became the first side from Canada to lift an NBA trophy, and Ujiri said that they managed it by getting the culture right over a number of years – allowing the players on the court to reflect the diverse identity of the city of Toronto.
Ujiri has had an interesting upbringing and journey into basketball, which seems to have given him some unique perspectives – ones that he has taken with him into his position as head of basketball operations. He hails from Bournemouth, England, and was raised in Northern Nigeria, where football was the main sport. Over time, he started following basketball and spent more time shooting hoops instead of going to football practice.
He had dreams of becoming a scout in the NBA, and offered his skills to the Orlando Magic back in 2003 for no pay, where he started to gain his experience and hone his reputation. He rose to become director of global scouting for the Raptors in 2007, and then landed a $3m-a-year deal in 2013 to head up all their operations. The Raptors have had an interesting ride in the last few years – a journey that was able to reach a peak when they picked up Leonard in 2018 from the San Antonio Spurs, and he was instrumental in dismantling the Golden State Warriors over the course of the NBA Finals, being crowned MVP.
Replacing someone like Leonard was always going to be a difficult task. However, Ujiri seems to have made no attempt to replace him, instead looking to create a new superstar talent from within. With Pascal Siakam, Ujiri is confident that he already has the player he needs to fill the gap.
Bold trades may have got them this far, but Danny Green has also departed to Los Angeles, this time to the Lakers, and Siakam is the player whose time they feel has come. He was nowhere near the first pick in the 2016 draft, but the Raptors liked what they saw and invested time in his development. Siakam flew from a miserly 4.2 points per game in 2017/18 to 16.9 points a game last year, so if the trend continues, Toronto will be confident that they can challenge again.
Words: Josh Dixon