Masai Ujiri

Eastern Notes: Pistons, Valentine, Ujiri, Wizards

The Pistons remain in limbo as some teams around the NBA start reopening their practice facilities, Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press writes.

The Cavaliers and Trail Blazers formally opened their facilities on Friday under strict restrictions and guidelines from the NBA, with teams such as the Nuggets, Kings, and Hawks intending on doing the same next week. Detroit is likely multiple weeks away from opening its own facility, the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center, Sankofa notes.

“There’s a set of guidelines, we’ll follow them to the T and we’ll be very cautious for both the player and the staff,” Pistons senior advisor Ed Stefanski said. “But … it’ll be a slow process. We’re waiting for the state of Michigan to allow us. We’re not doing anything until then.” 

Detroit has mostly relied on virtual workouts during the hiatus, including using features such as Zoom, joining other teams in doing whatever they can over break. It’s likely the team will continue to use these approaches as time progresses this month.

“It’s not perfect from a basketball/cardio stance, but we’re not in perfect times,” Stefanski admitted. “We understand that the players are just getting their strength workout and some cardio, even if it’s outside on a track and things like that. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. We’re not encouraging them to go into gyms and things like that that are not regulated by NBA people.”

There’s more out of the Eastern Conference tonight:

  • Eric Woodyard of ESPN explores how Bulls forward Denzel Valentine wound up wearing No. 45 from the day he was drafted by Chicago in 2016. Bulls legend Michael Jordan wore No. 45 for 22 games in 1995, causing many in Valentine’s circle to wonder whether he’d be able to don the number with Chicago.
  • Blake Murphy of The Athletic examines the draft history of Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who’s widely considered to be one of the top executives in the league. Ujiri was responsible for drafting Pascal Siakam in 2016 and OG Anunoby in 2017, along with signing Fred VanVleet as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
  • Precious Achiuwa would fill some important needs for the Wizards if the team chooses to draft him, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington contends. Achiuwa, who turns 21 in September, is a 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 15.8 points per game with Memphis last season.

And-Ones: Ujiri, DeRozan, Tomjanovich, Bates

While he’s on good terms now with former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey after firing him in 2018, Toronto’s president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri admitted to TNT’s Ernie Johnson this week that he hasn’t been able to mend fences in the same way with DeMar DeRozan. Ujiri shipped the longtime Raptors shooting guard to San Antonio in a 2018 blockbuster that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto.

“With Casey, it has gotten so much better now with his family and him. With DeMar there is still plenty of work to be done,” Ujiri said, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “But, by the grace of God, it will all get better. We have to continue to make these decisions that are tough. But that’s the business of basketball, and the position that we are in.”

While recognizing that the NBA is a business, Ujiri said that making significant changes to a coaching staff or roster isn’t easy, especially when it means parting ways with someone he has gotten close to. “You feel it in your heart,” Ujiri said, per Bontemps.

“I always say that the two hardest things in our world, in our business, is trading a player and then when a player leaves, if a player leaves in free agency,” Ujiri said. “And it’s hard on both sides. When a player is traded, it is hard on the player side, and when a player leaves, like us (with Leonard last summer), it is hard on that side. I’ve experienced all of it, from wonderful people.”

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • In a conversation with Michael Lee of The Athletic, former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich revisited some of the highlights – and lowlights – of his career and expressed gratitude at being elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this month. “I had been through the phone calls several times and got the, ‘Sorry, not this year.’ And it was so good to hear them say, ‘Rudy, you’re in,'” Tomjanovich said. “Still getting use to it. Still bouncing on a cloud. I feel really good about it.”
  • After Emoni Bates became the first high-school sophomore to win the Gatorade National Player of the Year, Jared Weiss of The Athletic explores the 16-year-old phenom’s game and explains why NBA scouts are excited for his growth trajectory.
  • In the second installment of his breakdown of 2020’s free agent class for wings, Danny Leroux of The Athletic singles out Heat swingman Derrick Jones Jr. as one of the more intriguing options who will be available, since it’s rare for an established rotation player to reach unrestricted free agency at such a young age — Jones turned 23 in February.

Atlantic Notes: Ujiri, Brand, Knicks, Thybulle

After being sued by Oracle Arena security guard Alan Strickland, who claimed he was assaulted at the end of Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has claimed in his legal response that he only shoved Strickland in the chest after being shoved by the security guard multiple times while attempting to get to the court.

Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic has the full story and the details on Ujiri’s response to Strickland’s lawsuit, in which he claimed that the Raptors’ executive “attacked” him and “hit him in the face and chest with both fists.” As Kaplan details, Ujiri also disputed Strickland’s claim that he wasn’t showing the proper credentials when he attempted to reach the court to celebrate his team’s title.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Rumors that the Knicks have interest in Elton Brand are a win-win for the Sixers‘ general manager, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. As Pompey writes, if New York’s interest is legit and Philadelphia pushes to retain its GM, the situation could even result in a raise and/or a contract extension for Brand.
  • In a Q&A with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Sixers wing Matisse Thybulle discussed his workout regimen during the hiatus, his newfound TikTok stardom, and how he has tried to keep things in perspective as his rookie season has been derailed by COVID-19. “I think we have people who are more essential than basketball players who aren’t able to work right now, and I think at the end of the day getting that stuff is more important than a basketball season,” Thybulle said. “At this point, this is real life. This is not about entertaining. This is not about what’s on TV. It’s about making sure you’re healthy and making sure your family is healthy, and I think that takes precedence over anything else.”
  • In case you missed it, we took a closer look at the Celtics‘ 2020/21 cap situation on Monday in the second installment of our Salary Cap Preview series. The Nets will be up next.

Bulls To Seek Interviews With Karnisovas, Webster, Others

1:24pm: Pacers GM Chad Buchanan will  join Karnisovas and Webster on the Bulls’ list of first-wave interview targets, per K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). Sources tell Darnell Mayberry and Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link) that Heat assistant GM Adam Simon will be part of that group as well.

According to Mayberry (Twitter link), the Bulls won’t pursue Ujiri or Thunder head of basketball operations Sam Presti and won’t go the player-agent route like New York and other teams have.

12:41pm: The Bulls have formally launched their search for a new top front office executive who will have full authority on basketball decisions, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. We had previously heard in a series of February reports that the team was laying the groundwork for front office changes.

Those February reports suggested that executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson would retain a “valuable seat at the table” amidst the front office upheaval and that general manager Gar Forman would have his responsibilities cut back.

Wojnarowski confirms that Paxson is expected to continue in an advisory role and says that the club will have more conversations with Forman about his future. Previous reports indicated Forman would likely be re-assigned to a scouting position.

According to Wojnarowski, Chicago plans to seek permission to interview Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas and Raptors GM Bobby Webster, among others. The club’s goal is to complete its planned front office changes “well before” the NBA resumes play, per Woj, who hears that interviews will begin next week and will be conducted virtually rather than in person due to the coronavirus.

Neither Karnisovas nor Webster is the head of basketball operations for his respective team — Tim Connelly serves as Denver’s president of basketball operations, while Masai Ujiri holds that position in Toronto. However, the two GMs have risen through their respective organizations in recent years and have played important roles in building the Nuggets’ and Raptors’ talented rosters.

According to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago, who identified Karnisovas and Webster as two possible targets for the Bulls in a March mailbag, Pacers GM Chad Buchanan, Heat assistant GM Adam Simon, Jazz GM Justin Zanik, and Clippers GM Michael Winger are among the other executives on Bulls president/COO Michael Reinsdorf‘s list of potential candidates (Twitter link).

Many of those executives are under contract beyond the 2019/20 season, but likely wouldn’t be held back by their respective teams if the Bulls’ job is viewed as a promotion from their current roles. Based on Woj’s description, it should be.

The timing of Chicago’s search is interesting. Ujiri spoke earlier this week about putting business like contract extensions for himself and Nick Nurse on hold during the NBA’s stoppage, and we heard on Thursday that the Knicks aren’t pursuing front office changes or a new head coach during the hiatus. Nets GM Sean Marks also said this week that his team isn’t moving forward with its head coach search at this time.

However, no official hiring or firing freeze has been instituted by the NBA, and the Bulls’ situation is a little different from that of those other teams — a new top front office executive would lead the team’s decisions in the draft and free agency, making that search a more pressing matter than a head coaching hire, lower-level front office changes, or extensions for current execs and coaches.

Atlantic Notes: Walker, Smart, Embiid, Raptors

Kemba Walker‘s left knee is feeling better, but the Celtics guard won’t know how it’s going to respond to competition until he gets to test it against someone, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Walker has gotten plenty of time to rest since the league shut down three weeks ago.

“The knee is doing well,” he said. “It’s difficult because I don’t have anyone around to give me treatments or anything like that. I have to do my own stuff, which I’m trying to do as much as possible; try to stay on top of things.”

Walker developed swelling in the knee during the All-Star break. He had it drained, then received a shot of Synvisc to ease the soreness and minimize swelling. He’s waiting out the hiatus like everyone else and hoping for a chance to try out the knee under game conditions.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Now that Celtics guard Marcus Smart has recovered from the coronavirus, he will donate blood in hopes that it will help to find a treatment for COVID-19, according to ESPN. Three other players who tested positive for the virus also plan to make blood donations, but they haven’t been identified. The league office reached out to team doctors over the weekend to encourage players who tested positive to give blood samples to the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project.
  • Joel Embiid‘s response to a plan by Sixers majority owner Josh Harris to reduce some employees’ salaries while the league is shut down raises questions about his long-term future with the team, suggests Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Harris changed his mind about the pay cuts, but not before Embiid made a public offer to help everyone who would have been affected. Ford claims Embiid’s relationship with the organization has always been “fractious” and states that embarrassing the owner may lead to an eventual parting.
  • In a conference call with reporters, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said potential extensions for himself and coach Nick Nurse won’t be discussed while the league is on hiatus (Twitter link from Eric Koreen of The Athletic). The team is currently paused with no talk of extensions or contracts for anyone, adds Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter link). “It’s not where our minds are at right now,” Ujiri said. “This is a crucial time for the world. Those things will come.”

Bulls Notes: Presti, Paxson, Boylen, Markkanen

Sam Presti has been mentioned as a possible target in the Bulls‘ front office shakeup, but K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago doesn’t believe the organization is willing to spend heavily on a new executive. He estimates it would take an offer in the neighborhood of $10MM a year to get the attention of Presti, the current president of basketball operations for the Thunder.

Johnson adds that Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf is exploring multiple options, which likely include both Presti and Raptors executive Masai Ujiri. Toronto isn’t expected to let Ujiri leave while he still has a year left on his contract, but because Presti is a close friend with Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett, the feeling around the league is that Bennett wouldn’t stand in his way if he wanted to leave the organization. Even so, Johnson expects the Bulls to make several hires for the new front office, rather than investing so much in a single executive.

Johnson believes John Paxson will accept whatever role ownership wants him to and speculates that Paxson is actually behind the management restructuring plan. The Bulls also intend to revamp their scouting department, which Paxson originally proposed.

There’s more from Chicago:

  • Front office candidates will likely be asked to keep an open mind about the future of coach Jim Boylen, Johnson relays in the same piece. Boylen received a contract extension after last season and has kept the support of management despite a poor win-loss record. He recently objected to senior advisor Doug Collins’ presence at coaches meetings, Johnson adds, so Collins’ role in that area has been reduced.
  • Lauri Markkanen played nearly 21 minutes last night after being sidelined since January 21 with a stress reaction in his pelvis, Johnson writes in a separate story. Markkanen posted 13 points and four rebounds and believes he’s ready for more time once he’s cleared by the medical staff. “I thought he tried. I thought he was active. I thought he was moving pretty good. I thought he showed his whole game — inside, outside,” Boylen said. “… He showed his full game in the minutes he played. I think it was a good first showing for him.”
  • Last night’s game between the Bulls and Timberwolves matches two franchises that are currently linked by bad decisions, states Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Those include the shared choices to get rid of Jimmy Butler and coach Tom Thibodeau.

Atlantic Notes: Williams, Celtics, Horford, Embiid, Ujiri

The Celtics did not trade for a center but they’ll get another back in action soon. Robert Williams could return by the end of the month, according to Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in a radio interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub that Williams, who hasn’t played since December 6 due to a hip injury, should be ready in a few weeks. “Robert Williams is progressing,” Ainge said. “He was out working on the court (Thursday). He’s starting his transition back into all the live action, and we anticipate him being back with us somewhere in the neighborhood of March 1.” Williams was averaging 3.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 1.1 BPG in 19 games prior to his injury.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Ainge sat the Celtics stood pat because he couldn’t find a deal that made sense, Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston reports. Ainge didn’t want to pay a premium price for a second-unit addition. “I hear people talking about why we didn’t do a deal. A lot of times people want us to get the first- or second-best player on another team,” Ainge said. “Those players are expensive and, if we brought them here, they would be the seventh-, eighth-, or ninth-best player on our team.”
  • Forward Al Horford is looking for a silver lining to the Sixers’ four-game losing streak entering Friday’s action, Malika Andrews of ESPN relays. “It’s like finding ourselves,” he said. “Trying to figure it out. I think good is going to come out of this.” Philadelphia has won just nine road games, and center Joel Embiid believes he needs to be a little more upbeat. “I’m trying to get back to the fun Joel,” Embiid said. “Smile a little more. The whole season I told myself I was going to be serious. I felt like everyone looked at [me] in a way that I’m moody or I might not care. I do. I want to win.”
  • Even though the Knicks hired Leon Rose as team president, speculation over Masai Ujiri’s future will continue to grow unless he signs a new contract with the Raptors, according to Michael Grange of SportsNet Canada. There have been preliminary discussions between Ujiri and the team’s ownership group but nothing has changed regarding the Raptors president’s desire to put off his contract status until this summer, according to Grange. Ujiri’s contract runs out after next season.

Knicks Plan To Hire Leon Rose As Head Of Basketball Operations

The Knicks and CAA player agent Leon Rose are nearing a deal that would make him the team’s new head of basketball operations, league sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported with Ramona Shelburne that Rose had become a top target for the Knicks, confirms that the team plans to hire the veteran agent as its next president (Twitter links). Ian Begley of SNY.tv first reported (via Twitter) that the Knicks had interest in Rose.

As Wojnarowski details (via Twitter), Rose has been one of the NBA’s top agents for years and has a star-studded list of clients that includes Joel Embiid, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Karl-Anthony Towns. The Knicks have plenty of experience dealing with Rose, as he also represents Carmelo Anthony.

Rose is expected to assume control of a front office that was previously run by Steve Mills, who was dismissed from his position as president of basketball operations earlier this week.

General manager Scott Perry took over as the top man in New York’s front office on an interim basis following Mills’ ouster, and he appears to be running the show for today’s trade deadline. He and the Knicks have a mutual option for 2020/21, meaning both sides would have to pick up that option for Perry to remain with the team, so we’ll see how that situation plays out. Newsday’s Steve Popper (Twitter link) hears that Perry is not expected to stay on under the new regime.

William Wesley, better known as “World Wide Wes,” is a strong candidate to join the Knicks’ front office under Rose, a source tells Begley (Twitter link). Wes, who is well-connected with players around the NBA, is a CAA consultant and has a strong relationship with Rose, according to Begley.

After firing Mills, the Knicks were immediately linked to Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, who has long been considered New York’s dream candidate. However, given how quickly New York moved forward on its front office search, it seems as if Ujiri wasn’t a serious option, despite rumblings that he might have interest in the job.

Begley had reported this morning (via Twitter) that there was “serious pessimism” surrounding the Knicks’ pursuit of Ujiri, in part due to the compensation that would have been required to get him out of his Raptors contract. With the Knicks moving in another direction, fans in Toronto can rest easy.

Before deciding on Rose, the Knicks were said to be considering a handful of other player agents as they look to emulate a model that has succeeded for the Warriors and Lakers, who hired former agents Bob Myers and Rob Pelinka, respectively.

Austin Brown and Roger Montgomery were among the agents reportedly receiving consideration from the Knicks, along with B.J. Armstrong, as Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News reported this morning (via Twitter).

Once Rose is officially hired by the Knicks, one of his first tasks this spring will be making a decision on the team’s head coach. Mike Miller has held that position on an interim basis since replacing David Fizdale earlier in the season.

Knicks Rumors: Russell, Morris, Trier, Caruso, Ujiri

The Knicks continue to pursue Warriors point guard D’Angelo Russell with the trade deadline 24 hours away, according to Newsday’s Steve Popper and Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links).

Reports earlier in the week had revealed the Knicks’ interest in Russell. However, those stories were published prior to Steve Mills‘ ouster from the front office, so it wasn’t clear if the remaining group – led by interim head of basketball operations Scott Perry – would continue to go after the fifth-year guard.

While today’s reports confirm that the Knicks remain interested in Russell, Charania hears that New York’s proposed package haven’t been enough to close the gap and meet Golden State’s asking price.

As we noted last night when we checked in on the Timberwolves’ pursuit of Russell, the Warriors were said to be seeking at least one of Minnesota’s own unprotected first-round picks — preferably in 2021, which is expected to be a strong draft than 2020. The Wolves were reportedly dangling Brooklyn’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round selection and their own protected ’20 first-rounder as part of their offer.

Presumably, the Warriors will be seeking at least one unprotected Knicks first-rounder in talks with New York. However, there’s no consensus within the Knicks’ front office on the team’s willingness to give up first-rounders to land D-Lo, tweets Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Newsday’s Steve Popper (Twitter link) is hearing that Marcus Morris will be moved before the deadline. Marc Stein of The New York Times conveys a similar sentiment, tweeting that the Knicks know they can trade Morris and now it’s just a matter of where.
  • In addition to touching base about Kyle Kuzma, the Knicks and Lakers have also discussed Allonzo Trier and Alex Caruso, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Those talks took place before Mills’ ouster and didn’t advance, sources tell Begley.
  • According to Marc Berman of The New York Post, Knicks owner James Dolan would like to move fairly quickly on the team’s front office search, possibly so there’s a new president in place for a head coaching search in the spring.
  • An in-season search would reduce the likelihood of the Knicks landing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Berman notes. However, a source suggests to Berman that might be okay with Dolan, who values loyalty and may not want to push Ujiri to break his contract in Toronto. Dolan may also been wary of Ujiri using the Knicks for leverage in extension talks with the Raptors, the source tells Berman.
  • Within a separate SNY.tv article examining possible front office targets for the Knicks, Begley writes that R.C. Buford (Spurs) and Kevin Pritchard (Pacers) aren’t realistic options. Both executives are on long-term deals and Buford has a CEO title in San Antonio.
  • Recently hired by the Knicks as a brand consultant, Steve Stoute is a “prominent voice” within the organization right now, according to Popper (Twitter link), who says Stoute is involved in the front office search.

Latest On Masai Ujiri, Knicks’ Front Office Search

Following Steve Mills‘ ouster from the Knicks‘ basketball operations department, rumors linking New York to Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri have resurfaced. Ujiri has long been viewed as the Knicks’ dream candidate, and while that interest hasn’t gone anywhere in the past, Marc Stein of The New York Times suggests there’s a chance this time could be different.

According to Stein, two “long-time Ujiri watchers” whom he trusts have been saying since December that they think the Raptors’ president intends to maneuver his way to New York. Both of those sources even said Ujiri may try to bring along Toronto general manager Bobby Webster, per Stein. One source told Stein that Ujiri’s relationship with Raptors chairman Larry Tannenbaum is strong enough that the defending champions would likely approve the move if Ujiri wants it badly enough.

Still, Stein cautions that there are caveats. Even if Ujiri wants to make the move to New York, his contract runs through 2020/21, so the Knicks and Raptors would have to agree on draft compensation. Toronto’s asking price would be even more significant if Ujiri wants to bring Webster along, since the young GM looks like Ujiri’s obvious replacement in the Raptors’ front office.

Stein also points out that there’s a belief around the NBA that commissioner Adam Silver and the league office want Ujiri running the Knicks. If team owner James Dolan is sensitive to the idea that the franchise needs Ujiri – who fleeced the Knicks in a pair of trades with Denver and Toronto – as its savior, he may be turned off by the league pushing the idea. For what it’s worth, NBA spokesman Mike Bass told Stein (Twitter link) that the notion of the league pushing Ujiri to “rescue” the Knicks is “100% false.”

In his own look at the Ujiri situation, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca writes that even though the Raptors’ president is under contract through 2021, his future will likely be determined in the coming months.

“If something is going to happen with Masai and the Knicks it will happen quick, probably a few days after (this) season is over,” a source told Grange.

Interestingly, Grange suggests that Ujiri’s contract may include an out for the coming summer, though he cautions that it’s not clear whether that’s a formal out or “more of a gentleman’s agreement.” Even if Ujiri can’t formally become a “free agent,” the Raptors are unlikely to force him to stay if he wants to run the Knicks, Grange notes.

While Stein and Grange both lay out the case for a Knicks/Ujiri marriage being plausible, they also both believe it’s possible Dolan has already gotten over his apparent infatuation with the Raptors’ president. We heard on Tuesday that New York may be targeting an NBA agent to run its front office, like the Warriors (Bob Myers) and Lakers (Rob Pelinka) have done. Grange’s source seemed to think Dolan might be more intrigued by that path.

Veteran agent Austin Brown and Kevin Durant‘s manager Rich Kleiman were among the possible candidates mentioned on Tuesday. Sources tell Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link) that Roger Montgomery is another agent receiving internal consideration from the Knicks for their front office position.