Denver Nuggets Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri named 2012-2013 NBA Executive of the Year

A week after Adrian Wojnarowski initially reported that the Raptors had been granted permission to speak to Masai Ujiri and that they had made him a lucrative offer, we finally have a conclusion…

The Raptors have since confirmed the news in a press release, with MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke stating “We feel very lucky to have Masai in our organization. He is a proven judge of talent and we look for him to be a big part of creating a winning atmosphere, leading us to the playoffs and, ultimately, delivering NBA championships for Toronto.”

Ujiri himself adds “To come back to the Raptors, to live in such a great city, and work in an organization that has committed all the resources necessary to win championships was a huge factor in the decision. I have already developed a great relationship with Tim Leiweke and I can’t wait to get back to Canada to build a team that is poised to take the next step in the NBA.”

Ujiri comes to Toronto armed with a new five year deal worth a reported $15 million, with Wojnarowski also reporting that ”Ujiri is likely to let Raptors coach Dwane Casey continue as coach for the 2013-14 season.”

As most RaptorBlog readers know, while I had plenty to complain about with respect to some of his rotations, I was in favour of Casey getting another chance to prove his worth in Toronto, especially when you consider that the team’s horrendous start coincided with Casey seemingly changing his coaching style and focusing more on offence to please then boss Bryan Colangelo.

But enough about Casey or Colangelo. This day is about the new boss in town, and that’s Masai Ujiri.

Plenty of people were concerned with the amount of time it took Ujiri to make up his mind and many misinformed pundits assumed it meant that the reigning Executive of the Year wanted nothing to do with the Raptors. The truth is likely that Ujiri is an intensely loyal executive who at least wanted to give the notoriously frugal Kroenkes in Denver a chance to make a competitive counter-offer (There’s also the possibility that Ujiri knew he was going to take the job within days but had to tie up some loose ends first). After all, with all of the talk recently about Ujiri’s Toronto connections, it’s easy to forget that the Nuggets were actually the first NBA team to give Masai a paid job after he worked as an unpaid scout for the Magic.

And therein lies a big part of the appeal when it comes to Ujiri. Not just that he’s a loyal man, but that by and large, he’s self-made. While there were always critics of Colangelo who were convinced his rise up the NBA ladder had to do with nepotism, Ujiri has a reputation as a guy who spent his savings to travel around the globe for the Magic on his own dime.

In terms of basketball, it’s no wonder why Ujiri quickly emerged as the top target for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. In three years he completely stripped down and rebuilt a team that was coming off of a 53-win season in 2010, only to floor a 57-win team that finished with the fourth-best record in the league in 2013 (a team whose potential wasn’t realized in large part because of an injury to Danilo Gallinari). Most impressive of all, he completed that three-year rebuilding project without his team falling out of the Western Conference playoff picture even once, a testament to both his work behind the scenes and the work of George Karl on the court.

You see, while Bryan Colangelo was talking about an “accelerated rebuild” in Toronto, Masai Ujiri was actually pulling one off in Denver.

His task in Toronto will demand more.

Sure, the Raptors have some intriguing young pieces and in Jonas Valanciunas they have a legitimate young building block, but the fact remains that Ujiri inherits a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years and that doesn’t have a cent of cap space or a 2013 draft pick to show for it.

For now, those concerns will be put off for a few days as Raptors fans celebrate the return of Ujiri and rejoice in the tears of Nuggets fans.

There are no guarantees of success for the Raptors under Ujiri’s watch and I’m aware that luring a highly coveted executive means little if said executive can’t eventually lure sought after players. But the very fact that Ujiri has taken the job in Toronto after many Raptors fans had been led to believe that he didn’t really want it, in itself, is a change of pace for a fanbase that is used to the hype of the chase without the actual catch (think Steve Nash).

Yes, this time it was an executive instead of a player. But nonetheless, this time it was different.

Fans now hope that under Ujiri, everything from here on out is different.

This time, it has to be different.

Comments (38)

  1. Is Val the only piece that is really untouchable for Ujiri?

  2. It would be funny if they spent all that money for someone who has a similar vision as Colangelo about the current make up of the team and plans to keep them together.

    As much as I’d like to see him do it, I don’t see a tear down likely and one of the factors that made him such an appealing candidate other than his previous history with the Raptors was him able to keep the Nuggets competitive even during/after Carmelo’s departure. I’m sure the board had some sort of similar quick fix in mind when they started this pursuit.

  3. He’s keeping Casey, too, pure hilarity.

    Oh, the changes are a coming!

  4. You referred to this team as having a “mediocre core”. JV, Gay, Derozan, Johnson and Lowry are NOT mediocre players. Since you know everything, and seem to hate this team so much, what should they do? You’re all for a tear down and ANOTHER rebuild? Get real bud. This team is headed in the right direction.

  5. i think that the raps are really close to getting into the playoffs year in and year out. they need a better point guard and some more three point shooting. i would not trade amir, val, demar, ross, acy and gay the rest are on the trade block, i really feel like fields is going to have a great up coming season. . hoping they can sign nate Robinson and kyle korver this summer

    • Exactly. They need a true backup PG, a big, and three point shooting. Landry Fields will have a great bounce back year if healthy. The core is set, yet losers like PBI don’t seem to think so.

  6. Happy to see Ujiri at the helm. Really hope he can replicate success here in T.O. Now get to work and earn your $58k/week!

  7. keeping coach casey is a good move!

  8. He is in a no lose situation this coming year if he does nothing. If we do well and make playoffs, then great, if not, he was only playing with the hand he was dealt, and he gets a higher pick in a good draft. Casey will be the fall guy next year if there needs to be one.

    I’m not expecting any major changes Year 1 but a couple of minor additions, or a diamond in the rough type of find, would be nice…. and Playoffs > Tanking, as always…

    • Exactly, not like Colangelo set the bar very high the last few years (i.e. every year but his first)

  9. Interesting to see the direction he goes in. The Raptors have SO many players with just terrible contracts. The part that underlined Bryan Colangelo’s ineptitude the most was the fact the team has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, is at the cap, and doesn’t have a draft pick. This is just a mess. If he can find a way to unload basically the entire roster save for JV, Amir and maybe Ross (due to the friendly contract), and just start this over, I’d be really impressed. I think this shit show is too far gone to “rebuild on the fly”.

  10. I for one hope his arrival means the end of the bargs and dd era. Two flawed, one dimensional players who were coddled and fed minutues when they didnt earn them. The way i look at it he has 3 players who can start on contending teams: lowry, gay, and val. The rest are backups and role players. Either he does a conplete tear down (unlikely) and trades everyone except val essentially or tries to build around those 3. Will be interesting to see what he does.

    • Calling Bargs 1-dimensional would imply he’s good at something. This season he wasn’t good at anything.

  11. Casey was horrendous as a coach last seaon one of the worst in raps horrendous coaching history. As for bargs we never had the right coach to develop him, as we learned from j rose that Mitchell butted heads with carter and we saw the min bargs was getting, Triano has not been considered for a HC job since he left, and Casey had been horrible last season along with bargs shooting struggles it was a bad mix. Please get rid of Casey before anything.

  12. Guys that say “blow it up” annoy the shit out of me. Firstly, every team that rebuilds isn’t successful. There is a lot of chance that goes into it. Secondly, professional sports is a business – raps haven’t made the playoffs in 5 years and interest is continuing to dwindle. Thirdly, Gay and Derozan are above average players while JV is a future stud. Why the fuck would you blow up the team? PBI also thinks that they should fire Casey. One of the reasons Vince left the raps was due to the instability. You can’t just shit can everyone if they have a bad year. Doc Rivers had some tough years too until he got a roster that he could work with. I feel like this team is a couple of solid vets and some solid bench players away from being a good team.

    • That’s right Omega! Rudy Gay, JV and DD anin’t noihin to fuck with! AJ and Fields are solid role players. Kyle Lowry has one more strike left man, he’s gotta show he can run this team…frankly I’m not sold just yet… We have nice traid bait in Bargs, AA, Kleiza and possibly DD for the right player. Fuck the haters like PBI man…… I’m a Raptor fan for life and I’m hyped just like I was last year. It takes a lot of shit to go right for a team to be successful and go deep in the playoffs. Anyone who don’t like what the raps have right now should go fuck themselves because what I see is a bunch of guys I love to cheer for because I genuinely believe in their talent. Go fuck yourself PBI

      • With how aggressively you come at me with your defense of the current make up of the team, one would think you are defending players/coaches/executives and overall, an organization with a long track record of success instead of a very spotty one.

        Oh well, might as well take it out on me instead of a loved one or family member.

        • Why would I take out my frustration with the raptors on my family? That makes no sense whatsoever. You’re a weird fucking guy man.

  13. “This time, it has to be different.”

    Same coach, old GM still part of the front office, new GM considers old GM who is still part of the front office a mentor, capped out team that will be very difficult to tinker with.

    Yup, very different indeed.

    • So if the raps have a fantastic year, PBI will be like “Why did the raps keep coach Casey, who has a ring, had a great first year with the club, and got caught in a shit storm in his second year..Why keep a guy who actually deserves this shot at being a legit head coach in this league? Casey is a great story and a great fit for this ball club. I have a ton of respect for him, and obviously I’m not the only one who feels that way. Did.I tell PBI to go fuck himself yet??

  14. I love what the Magic did- Vucevic (was sad to see him go from 6ers as he was a hidden gem on bench), Harkless, harris (team friendly contract bucks did not utilize him, another hidden gem), 2nd pick this possibly a guard to replace nelson in near future plus is Affalo is FA?.
    Bobcats- MKG, walker, taylor and mullens. Still years to go before anything.
    Cavs- 1st pick this year. Recovered nicely after LBJ
    Wiz- Great future wall need to still improve on alot though
    Piston- Monroe, Drummond, knight, some potenial with core plus Big V outta town and lawerence too
    Portland- everyone knows what it is
    Utah- Favors and Kanter are the future
    PHX- Lots of rebuilding to do
    NO- Davis, vazquez, anderson, and Gordon is soo overpaid
    Now t-dot- screwed themselves alot all these other teams are going to have success or are rebuilding the right way.

    • Raps- DD, and Gay it is laughable for people them a solid core.
      The only people i like on raps is Lowry, JV, Ross (a bit although he is not a star in this league), and Amir

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  16. The number one thing I care about in regards to Ujiri becoming the GM instead of Colangelo is that maybe we’ll finally stop trading away our first round draft picks every time somebody shiny is available via the trade market.

    • What 1st round draft picks are you refering to? This year’s 12 pick in a weak draft!?!?

      • The pick in the Jermaine O’Neal deal, I think it was – the one that went to Miami, and only returned to us in the sign-and-trade for Bosh – was the most egregious. The one in the Lowry trade wasn’t as bad – we were at least trading for a player who had yet to peak, and it was a calculated bet that we wouldn’t somehow finish in the wrong position in the wrong year.

  17. I would love to see ujiri fire Casey and get a bigger named coach. I think the biggest need for this team is a starting veteran pf, allowing amir to come off the bench, where he would still be great. It’ll be interesting to see what ujiri does with this core but I could see him bringing solid role players and hopefully a solid starting pf.

  18. Constantly changing coaches will do nothing to help success. Not even the best of coaches can just magically turn a team around (someone used Doc Rivers as an example). Especially when they don’t know the players or what the roster may even look like (as some are saying here to blow up the roster).

    Why the hell would a high profile coach come to a team that has no experience playing together save two players.

    WIth a new GM, I think Casey will have more control of his rotation. It seemed like there was just pressure to play Bargs, as he really did not do what the team focus was on. With a core 8 players and and some new faces to improve the areas needing to be addressed, the team will be fine and poised for the playoffs in a season or two.

    Rebuilding can’t happen over night, be patient and realistic. If you don’t like it, go follow another team. Why be a ‘fan’ when you don’t like most of what you see from the team.

  19. Stop over hyping Ujiri. Yes he’s a decent GM, but he’s not as great as you make him out to be. His team didn’t really go through a true rebuilding process. They had a top 5 super star in the league who publicly said he wanted to be traded to NY. So he did what any smart GM did and pillaged NY for most of their decent pieces. You also don’t mention the fact that regardless of how many wins his team had they always got knocked out in the 1st round.

  20. I don’t understand how hiring Ujiri is supposed to make him the “new boss”. Colangelo was kicked upstairs, hired a former flunky and gave him the GM title. Nothing else has changed.

    Given that Colangelo seems to still hold the power to hire at the GM level (and to pay exorbitant amounts to do so), doesn’t that tell us everything we need to know about where power continues to rest in the Raptors front office?

  21. As for the Nuggets, they are no better than they were before Ujiri got there. Yeah, the makeover is sexy, dumping some star talents in exchange for a deeper rotation of “just” good players. But the team is no better in 2013 than it was in 2010, they just has a bit more luck this year.

    It’s not trivial to keep a good team good, and Ujiri deserves credit for making changes but keeping the team good, is very different from building something.

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