In an offseason full of important storylines and transactions, the most important move for the Toronto Raptors this summer may come from off of the court.
This past week, long-time Raptor executive Masai Ujiri signed a contract extension to stay at the helm of basketball operations in Toronto. The extension comes at a time where many Raptors fans began to worry about Ujiri’s future, as the summer pushed forward without much in the way of updates before this past week.
“I love being the leader of the Toronto Raptors”, said Ujiri. “I’m here to stay”.
That love is certainly reciprocated as Raptors fans rejoiced over the news, proudly celebrating his significance to the team’s success. Ujiri inherited a franchise near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and turned them into a perennial contender that was worthy of respect. In this article, we will examine his past accomplishments and determine why his commitment to stay with the team will be more valuable than anything else they manage to get done this offseason.
Ujiri had already built up a strong resume before becoming the General Manager of the Raptors. He had previously served as the GM for the Denver Nuggets, and won the award for the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year.
When he came over to Toronto at the end of the 2012-2013 season, he was taking over a team that was struggling to find its footing in the conference, and lacking any real identity after the departure of Chris Bosh years prior.
Ujiri’s first mastermind move was the Andrea Bargnani trade to New York, where Masai managed to get out from under the contract of the Italian and still get pieces in return.
Following that, Ujiri made the bold move of trading Rudy Gay, entrusting his team to Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who were not yet fully developed as NBA stars at the time. The Gay trade ended up paying off, as the Raptors turned a poor start around and qualified for the playoffs in Ujiri’s first full season.
Over the consecutive years, the Raptors would continue to bolster their roster and improve their standing in the East, with consistent playoff appearances and hardworking teams that could grind out important wins. He was finally able to see some success in the 2016 season with the Raptors trip to the conference finals, and afterwards announced he would be moving into the President of Basketball Operations role full time instead of serving as the teams GM.
Even with the title change, Ujiri still made a bulk of the decisions in the front office, and made several key moves that changed the franchise’s history forever. Firstly, he made the decision to fire the former Coach of the Year Dwane Casey after yet another early playoff exit in 2018, and then took the risk of trading his franchise star DeRozan for a 1-year rental of Kawhi Leonard, and we all know how that turned out.
Ujiri’s Raptors track record has way more hits than misses, and even with some surprising moves of late such as drafting Scottie Barnes in the 2021 draft, it’s hard to argue with any move he makes at this point. The contract expiration came at a time of change for Toronto, and so to be able to keep the figurehead of the team in place is crucial to any possible success moving forward.
The New Deal
As of mid-last week, Masai Ujiri signed a multi-year contract extension (length unknown) to remain with the Raptors in an increased role as both a Vice-Chairman and President, with the former title leading people to believe he could be receiving stake in MLSE. The jump is big for Ujiri, who has been slowly moving up the ladder since his arrival in 2013.
With so many other uncertainties surrounding the Raptors the past few seasons, the stability of holding onto your head of operations is too valuable to quickly put into words. Ujiri is the backbone of the best years in this organization’s history, and the new contact ensures that whichever path the Raptors choose to take back into relevance will be one that is thought out and calculated.
Masai and Toronto Moving Forward
There’s no debate that this Toronto team has taken a step backwards from previous years, but the Raptors could be able to get back into the playoff picture quickly with the right decisions form management, as several pieces of the puzzle are already in place. Scottie Barnes will look to make an impact for the team almost immediately, and returning young stars Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby will have another year under the belt at the NBA level.
The Raptors are a superstar or one big trade away from being a legitimate threat, and if there’s anyone that could pull the trigger on something like that, it would be Ujiri. He has done it time and time again over the past decade, and a new installment in the series would be welcomed by Raps fans eager to see their squad move back to relevance.
Why is this the biggest move of the offseason?
More than any individual on the court, Ujiri has a say on how the entire team is shaped and organized, and has a direct impact on the state of the franchise. Ujiri is one of the best front office executives in the league, and re-signing him is the equivalent of re-signing an MVP-caliber player, or maybe even more so.
Ujiri was in hot demand across the league, and for him to make the decision to stay in Toronto over any of the other lucrative offers shows his commitment to the organization moving forward. He wants to see the team succeed, and will take any risks needed to provide a better pathway to that end goal.
Even if the Raptors were able to sign a big name this offseason, that individual would not have the same impact, influence and responsibility that Ujiri does, making even the best Toronto-free-agent target seem measly in comparison. Ujiri is the brains behind the operation, and his contact extension likely allows for a re-tooling instead of a rebuilding process over the next few years, which is far more important than any individual signing.
At the end of the day, it’s true that the players are the ones with the biggest impact on winning and losing, but a good culture and leadership from the top levels often trickles down all the way through the organization. Through re-signing Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have guaranteed that they will be in good hands for the length of his contract, and have given stability to a franchise that could desperately use some. When you put it like that, maybe it isn’t such a hot take after all; Ujiri’s contract extension is the most important move the Raptors will make this offseason, regardless of the other transactions that take place before opening night.