LAS VEGAS — Masai Ujiri wants Toronto Raptors fans not to worry, despite the loss of Kawhi Leonard.
“I think we got a great deal out of this,” Ujiri said in a small media scrum late Tuesday night after flying to Nevada from Rwanda. “We won a championship so we’re happy. And, honestly, it’s on to the next. This is the NBA and this is how it works.
“You can’t hide under the table and cry. Honestly, I’ve lost no sleep, I’m not disappointed. It’s on to what’s next. I’m telling Raptors fans and everybody, don’t lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep. We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to be alright,” said the team president.
Ujiri projected an air of calm and resolve, despite seeing the best player in franchise history, and maybe the entire NBA, head home to Los Angeles. Why was he feeling that confident?
“Because that’s just the nature of the NBA and I think our team is set up well I’m confident with the guys that we have.
“Obviously going forward, I think we have the requirements of what a team needs to tackle what’s next so whether it’s cap space in the future (starting next summer, all our draft picks (after trading a couple in recent years), and I just have the confidence in our scouts, our guys … all these guys who scout around the world looking for talent. I know the young guys on our team will develop. And then we’ve created a place I think where people want to play,” Ujiri said. “An atmosphere of a strong organization and I think strong coaching. We’re very confident about that.”
Ujiri didn’t indicate that any veterans would be sold off at this point (four of the club’s top five players will be unrestricted free agents after the season) and potential starter Norman Powell told Postmedia about an hour later that the returning players remain confident. That doesn’t mean all will be around for the entire 2019-20 campaign, just that things will start off that way and they’ll see what happens.
As for the way Leonard and his camp negotiated, well, Ujiri appeared to have mixed feelings, leaving little between the lines.
“I think he was … Kawhi was,” Ujiri said, accentuating the pause after being asked if Leonard was up front throughout.
So, was anybody not up front, like, perhaps Leonard’s purportedly overreaching uncle, Dennis Robertson?
“Ha, either way … I know what we’re dealing with here and I appreciate what the process was and I know free agency, I know how it works,” Ujiri said. “It’s not my first rodeo. You know things are going to go up and down. This was a different kind of free agency. It’s high stakes and we understood that.”
The last time Ujiri talked he had expressed confidence in the team’s ability to keep Leonard. Obviously things changed.
“In the whole process, in our talks and just communication I was confident. But I understand how free agency,” he said. “You base things on some of the things we’ve done and you’re biased a little bit. We won a championship, it went well, blah, blah, blah. But I know, I’m not naive to think that in free agency it doesn’t change. I do want to say that he definitely has our blessings. He gave it everything while he was with us and we really appreciated that. I communicated with him afterwards and it was very good.”
One thing Ujiri definitely did not like over the past week or two was the misinformation campaign that seemed to be everywhere. Speculation was presented as fact on Twitter and on the airwaves. And not just by nameless Twitter or Reddit users. Some journalists with large followers presented opinions and speculation as truths.
“It’s just become unreal how there’s become a play-by-play on what’s going on and it’s not real, it’s not realistic,” he said. “You have to stay within your focus. One day someone is in the lead and the next day someone else is in the lead and no one has even talked. So I don’t know how that works. It all goes by sources and whoever a person talks to but, honestly, in our jobs, we understand that.
“We understand what the focus is. You stay focussed on what the goal is and that’s to sign the free agent, but to me that’s all the noise, we’ve learned this time and time again. You have to believe what anyone is telling you is the truth in my position or Bobby (Webster) or wherever we are.”
It sounds like this was quite the bizarre process. It didn’t end the way Ujiri and his staff would have hoped, but they believe they will be back and nobody can ever take the championship away from the Raptors.