The architect of the Toronto Raptors’ success that they have enjoyed as an organization the last seven years has an expiring contract. Masai Ujiri has yet to work on securing his future with the Toronto Raptors.
Masai Ujiri is probably almost as popular a member of the Toronto Raptors as point guard Kyle Lowry. Over the last seven years, his decisions, from supporting Kyle Lowry as the team leader to trading popular DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard and drafting players like Pascal Siakam, have been golden.
These decisions have led to the team being in the NBA Playoffs seven consecutive years, appearing in two conference finals, winning their inaugural NBA Championship, and five consecutive 50 plus winning seasons.
His ability to get the Toronto Raptors a G-League affiliate, the Raptors 905, to develop talent was a great accomplishment his predecessor, Bryan Colangelo, wanted and never could finalize.
His latest contract expires this summer, and there has been no extension yet. Masai Ujiri’s continued employment in the Toronto Raptors head office is as important as any player signing, yet it hasn’t been dealt with. MLSE, who owns the Raptors, has promised to extend Masai Ujiri’s contract. In a Yardbarker.com article, MLSE chairman Larry Tannenbaum stated:
"“We have time and we’re going to work through the process in the right time and the right way, I know that for sure.”"
It hasn’t happened, leaving room for doubt that Masai Ujiri has a place in the Raptors’ future.
Rumors since 2019 existed that the Toronto Raptors might lose Ujiri
For the second time since his hiring as the Toronto Raptors general manager back in 2013, there were rumors that James Dolan of the New York Knicks wanted to entice Masai Ujiri away from the Toronto Raptors early during the 2019/20 season before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Masai Ujiri did not really address those rumors, nor did he dispel them either. MLSE, the ownership group of the Raptors, seemingly hasn’t aggressively pursued retaining Masai Ujiri. In a recent interview this past weekend, Masai Ujiri addressed several issues, including how busy things have been, and his priority was getting his staffs’ contracts dealt with first, referring to general manager Bobby Webster’s contract extension as “pretty much done.”
Essentially Masai Ujiri could have dealt with his extension anytime within the past year, but he seems to be doing housekeeping getting things in place before his departure.
Most contracts with the Toronto Raptors expires this off-season.
It could be a coincidence that, like Masai Ujiri’s contract, most other members of the Toronto Raptors have expiring deals this summer. There are currently 10 Toronto Raptors’ players under contract beyond 2021 with a team option for the next season on Aron Baynes’ deal and a player option for Norman Powell.
Seven of those player contracts are under 10 million dollars a season. This does not equate to an executive building a long term plan. Remember, there is a strongly held belief that the plan is for the Toronto Raptors to score Giannis Antetokounmpo next summer in free agency. Masai Ujiri’s ties to his family, expressed in a Sportsnet.ca article, are supposed to secure the deal.
First, if Masai Ujiri is not in Toronto next season, the dream of acquiring Giannis Antetokounmpo dies. Further, with little talent signed to surround the “Greek Freak,” should he opt out of his max-deal option with the Milwaukee Bucks rejecting it on December 21st, 2020, and then potentially signing with Toronto in 2021, there does not appear to be a long term plan after this season for what is a hypothetical dream scenario. So why would Giannis Antetokounmpo sign with a team that has no plan?
Toronto Raptors’ negotiation policy this off-season
Further, this off-season was about the Toronto Raptors’ limiting the length of contracts offered to free agents to one year. In doing so, they failed to bring back Serge Ibaka at a major pay cut of 9.5 million per year. This suggests hoarding cap space for next summer, or it was a failed attempt to win again just for this year.
There is also the fact that OG Anunoby, a key stalwart on this team, is deserving of a rookie contract extension but does not yet have a deal. In remarks to the media, he did acknowledge that his agent is in talks with the team.
OG Anunoby was “surprised” that Serge Ibaka did not return to Toronto, stating in a Sportsnet.ca article:
"“From even when I was a rookie Serge would always talk to me about taking care of my body, on-court work, stuff I need to be working on, how I need to be eating, So he did a good job looking out for me all my three years with him."
Masai Ujiri spoke to OG Anunoby’s contract situation, saying the following:
“I think there are talks to be had,” Ujiri said today, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). “They know of the abilities that we want, so we’ll keep having those conversations. The most important thing is we’re excited about OG.”
The Toronto Raptors and OG Anunoby have until December 21st, 2020, to work out a contract extension, or OG Anunoby will become a restricted free agent who has lost his mentor in Serge Ibaka. Unlike the trade of DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, which annoyed Kyle Lowry, the loss of Serge Ibaka weakened the team and seems pointless a decision over one season in contract length.
As for keeping cap space for 2021, trades could be made at the time to accomplish what the Los Angeles Lakers did when they acquired Anthony Davis and subsequently reshaped their roster this off-season to re-sign him to a rich new deal.
Not re-signing your best center and then risking restricted free agency with a good young player you managed to steal at the back end of the 2017 draft does not feel like a plan.
The hope is that Masai Ujiri does re-sign long term with Toronto and that matters of the COVID-19 Pandemic displacing the team are, in fact, the holdup.
He has had negotiations with the Canadian government to ease border restrictions to keep Toronto in Canada this season, which failed and other staff members needing contract extensions, among other issues, why his contract has not been finalized.
He cannot give his full attention to the Toronto Raptors’ priorities if his priority is not to be here long term. Finally, Masai Ujiri cannot negotiate with himself, so Maple Sports Entertainment needs to step up and secure the services of their President of Basketball Operations as they promised.