For every solid move Toronto Raptors executive Masai Ujiri has made in the last few years, like drafting Scottie Barnes and executing the OG Anunoby trade, decisions like the Thad Young trade and Jakob Poeltl situation will hang over his tenure and cast it in an unfavorable light.
Giving up a first-round pick that was only top-6 protected was bad enough, but doing it right before a season where Toronto could conceivably finish just outside of that range and lose the pick may be difficult for some to stomach. Paying him close to $80 million on a four-year contract represents a hefty investment in him.
In an emotional press conference in which he explained the process behind trading Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers, Ujiri was also adamant about the Poeltl trade, refusing to say that he made a mistake. In Ujiri's eyes, Poeltl was the missing piece last season.
Ujiri chose to defend this trade with vigor, saying he made the deal to see if his old team, as currently constructed, could compete for postseason glory. The move didn't work, and it left the Raptors in a weird place, but Ujiri seems to be defending it on the basis of getting a starting-caliber player for a draft pick.
Masai Ujiri defens Toronto Raptors trading first-round pick for Jakob Poeltl.
Poeltl is in a very weird spot in the eyes of this fanbase. Many consider him overpaid and rue the day Ujiri made that trade, but he is also really good at executing his primary responsibilities and makes the Raptors a significantly worse team when he is not on the floor.
Poeltl is averaging 10.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game while flexing strong rim protection to the tune of 1.4 blocks per game. Poeltl is leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 68.5% this season, a testament to his strong interior finishing and touch inside the paint.
Losing the pick may come back to bite the Raptors. While some doubt the quality of the 2024 NBA Draft class, one consensus is a solid center group, led by possible No. 1 pick Alexandre Sarr. Between trading for Poeltl and moving another first in the Thad Young trade that could have been used on Walker Kessler, Ujiri has missed some chances to go younger at center.
Jontay Porter is doing a solid job of filling in, but the Raptors need Poeltl back on the floor soon. Even if his price was expensive, he has quickly become an indispensable member of the team.