Toronto Raptors: Masai Ujiri’s pursuit for Giannis Antetokounmpo begins (again)

It’s no secret that the Toronto Raptors have their eye on potential 2021 free agent Giannis Antetokounmpo. Behind-the-scenes footage of Masai Ujiri trying to trade up to draft the Greek Freak in 2013 was broadcast on the latest episode of Bell’s Open Gym. And the timing couldn’t be have been more perfect.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s supermax extension deadline coming up on Dec. 21, the Toronto Raptors are subtly starting their Giannis recruitment. The team’s pursuit for Giannis actually began years ago, before the two-time MVP even played his first NBA game.

Back in 2018, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Masai was trying to trade into the 2013 NBA Draft for a chance to draft Giannis:

Masai had a deal in Toronto. I remember Masai was working with Oklahoma City on a possible trade. I think Oklahoma was at 10 that year and they took Steven Adams. Ten or 11 or 12, somewhere in there. And once Adams made it to the Thunder, there was no trade. But I think if Adams had gotten taken ahead of them, Oklahoma City may have traded out of there, and Toronto would’ve gotten [Giannis].

The Raptors were not slated to draft in 2013. A year before Masai stepped in as GM, the team traded their first-round pick to Houston in a deal that brought Kyle Lowry to Toronto. Needless to say, things could’ve been very different had the Raptors kept their #12 pick.

Even without any picks, the team had their eyes set on one target: Giannis. When the trade to acquire #12 from the Oklahoma City Thunder fell through, Masai then tried to acquire #14 from the Minnesota Timberwolves—to no avail. Giannis was ultimately taken at #15 by the Milwaukee Bucks.

None of this is new information. However, never-before-seen footage from the Raptors’ 2013 NBA Draft war room aired on the Dec. 9 episode of Open Gym, sending social media (particularly Raptors Twitter) into a frenzy.

“The kid we want to pick, we don’t feel like many kids in 2015 will be at his level after two years,” Ujiri said of Giannis. And he wasn’t too far off: the Greek Freak went on to become one of the league’s top 5 players after winning MIP in 2017. This past season, he won back-to-back MVP and DPOY.

Toronto Raptors fans were not expecting to see some Giannis propaganda in a documentary about the bubble. And it came at just the right time.

The footage aired during part two of The Bubble: An Open Gym Documentary. There was no actual reason to include 2013 draft footage in a documentary about life in the bubble (not that anyone is complaining). In fact, this was the clip used as an introduction to the Bobby and Masai era. Surely they had tons of other footage to choose from, and they went with this. They knew what they were doing.

Coincidentally, it just happened to air on the same day that Giannis said he was “just trying to focus on himself” when asked about the supermax contract. If he doesn’t sign the extension come Dec. 21, he’s set to become a free agent in 2021.

We can only expect that the Toronto Raptors will do whatever it takes to lure the reigning MVP to join the team if he hits free agency next year. It would be the ultimate comeback for not being able to draft him in 2013.

Unless Giannis puts pen to paper, the team still has a good chance at landing him. Not just because of Masai’s close ties to the Antetokounmpo family, but because of the team’s strategic off-season moves that allowed them to save cap space. They undoubtedly had the 2021 free-agent class in mind with the way that they carefully handled this year’s off-season.

Propaganda? Maybe. Borderline tampering? Perhaps. But if there’s one thing that most Toronto Raptors fans can agree on, it’s that in Masai we trust.