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.