Toronto Raptors: Is Masai Ujiri indirectly calling the shots for Raptors?

Toronto Raptors - Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Toronto Raptors decision-making goes through Masai Ujiri, but is he here for the long haul? Since his hiring in 2013, all the important decisions surrounding the Raptors have gone through him.

The decision to upgrade DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, the deal to acquire Marc Gasol, and even the trade of Terrence Ross for Serge Ibaka came under his watchful eye. He carefully crafted a seven-year contender from 2014-2020 and created the opportunity for the Raptors to claim the 2019 NBA Title.

Toronto has re-upped key management figures like head coach Nick Nurse in September of last year, and general manager Bobby Webster has also signed an extension. Webster was instrumental in the selection of Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

Yet, Ujiri remains unsigned, a free agent. With Masai in the draft room and his philosophy in the draft clearly having influenced Webster, his influence is indirectly guiding the Raptors this year. Even if he doesn’t sign a contract, his fingerprints are all over this offseason.

Who is handling the Toronto Raptors 2021 free agency?

Even with the head coach and general manager in place, Masai is the president of basketball. Ujiri has a reputation for building a winner both in Denver and now Toronto. Toronto has a poor history with free agency, so it may take every ounce of Ujiri’s reputation and Webster’s negotiation to persuade top-notch players to relocate to Toronto.

The team has a magnificent core of young talent, now including Barnes. Management now must decide what to do with RFA Gary Trent Jr. and free agent Kyle Lowry.

Will a trade to acquire talents like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal? Will the Raptors rely on Khem Birch at the center position or make a move to sign or trade for a better player like RFA Jarrett Allen in free agency?

Chatter concerning Masai Ujiri’s contract does not clarify the situation.

In an excellent interview with Sportsnet’s Michael Grange and Yahoo Sports Canada’s podcast Raptors Over Everything’s William Lou discusses Ujiri’s contractual situation in detail.

Whether Ujiri doesn’t know what he wants from a new deal, changes to the MLSE board of directors are causing him consternation. The Raptors have an opportunity to reclaim an elite position in the East if Ujiri’s focused on remaking the roster.

In a more recent article by Grange, it is suggested that it’s “business as usual for Ujiri” and that “it’s an encouraging sign.”

"“He’s working like someone whose team’s problems are his to fix. He’s all in on the draft, he’s looking at free agency,” said one player agent. “He’s coming back.”"

But on Wednesday, Webster affirmed that for the moment, the president is fully engaged in all affairs about the Raptors as reported by Sports Illustrated.

"“I had dinner with him last night. I had breakfast with him this morning. He’s upstairs making phone calls,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said during his Wednesday afternoon pre-draft media availability. “So I think he’s busy.”"

Until Ujiri’s name is on a contract, he may be the most consequential free agent the Raptors chase this off-season in their pursuit of crafting a competitive roster for 2022.

However,  the selection of Scottie Barnes at the draft feels like an Ujiri decision. He was in the Raptors’ draft room when the choice was made, signaling that the 2013 NBA Executive Of The Year is still at the helm in Toronto.

His contract did expire on June 30. Even if he leaves, Webster was his understudy, and he may be influenced by Ujiri’s philosophy for the future. Either directly or indirectly, Ujiri will play a part in Toronto’s success in 2021.

Next. What could a Jarrett Allen contract look like?. dark