Masai Ujiri

Raptors Notes: Barnes, Koloko, Ujiri, Porter

Scottie Barnes was one of the surprise stories of the 2021/22 season, winning Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Raptors return to the playoffs. In an interview with Steve Aschburner of NBA.com, Barnes said he understands the game even better now after spending a full season in the league.

“I really know the difference in what it takes to win and how hard each and every game is,” Barnes explained. “So it takes a certain amount of effort every night. I’m really trying to stay consistent with the effort I make on the offensive end and the defensive end. Trying to score points and make winning plays. Try to pull out these wins, because it’s hard to win a game in the NBA. Every possession really counts.”

The 21-year-old forward, who returned to the court tonight after an injury scare over the weekend, focused on off-the-dribble moves during the summer to expand his offensive arsenal. Coach Nick Nurse wants Barnes to become more aggressive in trying to score whenever he has a mismatch.

“I’m a natural passer,” Barnes said. “The first thing I look for, I try to make the right play. See who is open. Try to draw the defense. But it’s just … me trying to be more aggressive, they give me the confidence to do that. That allows me to try to find those mismatches in any way possible. Through pick and rolls or out on the floor. It doesn’t really matter who’s on me, I’ve got to try to do what I do.”

There’s more from Toronto:

  • Rookie center Christian Koloko was looking forward to his first matchup with Sixers star and fellow Cameroon native Joel Embiid tonight (video link). Koloko told reporters he hopes it will inspire youngsters in the African country to see two Cameroonian players face each other in the NBA.
  • Raptors president Masai Ujiri was fined $35K for approaching the scorer’s table during Saturday’s loss to Miami and “directing inappropriate remarks toward a game official,” the NBA announced (via Twitter).
  • Otto Porter Jr., who still hasn’t made his debut with the Raptors, missed another game tonight with a strained hamstring, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. Nurse said Porter is getting closer to being ready, and with just one game over the next four days, there’s hope that he will benefit from extra practice time.

And-Ones: Smith, BIG3, Ujiri, BAL, Mexico

Longtime NBA guard J.R. Smith believes he was blackballed from the league, as Pierce Simpson of Complex relays. According to Simpson, it seems like Smith is mostly remembered for the mistake he made at the end of a 2018 NBA Finals game, choosing to dribble away from the rim without knowing the score.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Smith said on whether he was blackballed after that. “Anybody can sit here and tell you that that’s a fact.”

Smith played 11 games with Cleveland the following season and briefly played with LeBron James on the Lakers in 2019/20. Since then, he hasn’t played in the NBA. Smith will turn 37 years old next week and never formally announced his retirement, but a return to the league seems highly unlikely at this point.

Here are some other notes from around the basketball world:

  • The BIG3 has relieved CEO Chris Hannan of his duties, according to ESPN’s Marc J. Spears (Twitter link). Ice Cube, the co-founder of the league, has been named CEO in his place. Jeff Kwatinetz (another co-founder) will serve as the league’s president.
  • Raptors president Masai Ujiri believes the Basketball Africa League (BAL) can produce NBA-level talent, but it’ll need time to grow, Leonard Solms writes for ESPN. Ujiri has remained active with the NBA’s work in Africa. As Solms notes, former BAL players Anas Mahmoud and Evans Ganapamo earned invites to play in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League — Mahmoud in 2021 with Toronto and Ganapamo in 2022 with Milwaukee — but neither player has earned a roster spot in the NBA.
  • Mexico surprised Team USA in their AmeriCup opening game, winning the contest 73-67, as detailed by The Associated Press. Mexico was led by Paul Stoll, who finished with 15 points and nine assists. Stoll went undrafted in 2008 and has played his entire career internationally.

Atlantic Notes: Brogdon, Nets, Raptors, Niang

Speaking to Spencer Davies of BasketballNews.com, new Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon said the franchise’s history is one important reason why he was excited to be traded from Indiana to Boston this offseason.

“I mean, they’re the most winning organization in the league, and I think they’re more hungry to win than anybody,” Brogdon said. “You can see that with the move they made for me and (Danilo) Gallinari. They want to improve. They want to win a championship. It’s all about Banner 18 for ’em. Now that’s all it’s about for me as well, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Brogdon also talked to Davies about Gallinari’s injury, the role he thinks he can play in Boston, and his involvement with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa program. The conversation is worth checking out in full for Celtics fans.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

International Notes: Brown, Basketball Without Borders, World Cup

Former NBA wing Anthony Brown has agreed to terms on a deal with Russian club Unics Kazan, writes Alessandro Maggi of Sportando. A former EuroLeague club, Unics Kazan now competes in the VTB United League.

After being selected with the No. 34 pick by the Lakers in 2015 out of Stanford, Brown bounced the NBA and G League for several seasons. He suited up for the Lakers and their NBAGL affiliate, at the time called the Los Angeles D-Fenders (now the South Bay Lakers), the Magic and their affiliate team the Erie BayHawks/Lakeland Magic, the Timberwolves and their NBAGL club the Iowa Wolves, and the Pelicans. In 41 total NBA games, the 29-year-old has averaged 3.9 PPG and 2.5 RPG across 18.6 MPG.

Brown first headed overseas in 2018, and has since suited up for teams in Serbia, France, Spain, Turkey and Israel. While playing for Maccabi Rishon LeZion in Israel Super League competition last season, the 6’7″ swingman posted averages of 16.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG and 1.0 SPG, with a shooting line of .465/.396/.821.

Here are more international basketball odds and ends:

  • Several NBA players and coaches will head overseas to take part in a Basketball Without Borders camp set for Cairo, Egypt, per a league press release. The event will run from this Sunday, August 28, through next Wednesday, August 31. Sixty-four of the best boys and girls hailing from 26 African nations, aged 18 and under, will travel to the camp. Jazz center Udoka Azubuike, Magic center Mohamed Bamba, Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon and forward Grant Williams, and retired Hall of Fame center Dikembe Mutombo will be among the camp’s coaches, with Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups, Pelicans head coach Willie Green, Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr., Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, Bucks associate head coach Charles Lee, and Hornets athletic trainer Quinton Sawyer also participating. The camp’s roster of directors will be pretty star-studded as well, led by Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Cavaliers GM Mike Gansey, and Clippers scout Lance Blanks.
  • With almost exactly one year to go before the 2023 FIBA World Cup tips off, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press checks in on USA Basketball as the organization ramps up its preparation for the event. The first games in next year’s competition are scheduled to be played on August 25, 2023. Fielding a lineup that features G League and international-caliber American players, Team USA currently has a 6-1 record in the World Cup qualifiers. Next year, Steve Kerr will coach Team USA, featuring a likely-star studded roster. This year, that task falls to former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen. “We’re learning a lot because the NBA game has changed over the last seven or eight years, too,” Sean Ford, the U.S. men’s national team director, said. “There’s much more shotmaking. It’s just unbelievable, incredible the amount of 3-point shots that are taken, the freedom of movement, the flow of the game. But the international game has stayed the physical way.” 
  • Former Thunder swingman Terrance Ferguson has made the jump to overseas play, signing on with Polish team GTK Gliwice. Get full details here.

Raptors Notes: Porzingis, Trade Talks, Young, Ujiri

Before Dallas agreed to trade Kristaps Porzingis to Washington last Thursday, one report suggested that the Mavericks and Raptors may be having discussions about the big man.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link) and Marc Stein (Substack link) have since confirmed that Toronto had some interest in Porzingis. However, Grange says the Raptors never got close to making a deal for the former lottery pick, while league sources tell Stein that Toronto “stepped away” from those discussions due to concerns about Porzingis’ long-term health.

Porzingis was eventually traded to the Wizards along with a protected second-round pick in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Grange adds (via Twitter) that last week’s three-team trade talks involving the Raptors, Lakers, and Knicks reached an impasse in part due to L.A.’s luxury tax concerns. Presumably, the framework that was discussed would’ve required the Lakers to take on extra salary, increasing the projected luxury tax bill for a team that doesn’t currently hold a top-eight spot in the West.
  • Discussing the Raptors’ decision to acquire Thaddeus Young at the trade deadline, president Masai Ujiri explained that the forward checked multiple boxes for the team: “We wanted a veteran-type player, a Bird rights-type player, that came and bridged (a gap) helping our young guys both in the locker room and on the court” (link via Mike Ganter of The Toronto Sun). For his part, Young told reporters he’s excited to be in Toronto because the team’s energy and style matches how he plays (Twitter link via Eric Koreen of The Athletic).
  • Ujiri admitted during his post-deadline press conference that he doesn’t love the trade deadline, since he views the offseason as a better time to make moves that reshape the roster (Twitter link via Koreen).
  • The Raptors’ roster – which is heavy on length and 6’8″ forwards – reflects Ujiri’s refusal to subscribe to team-building orthodoxy, Koreen writes in a story for The Athletic. “We’re in a copycat league. Everybody wants to do what another person is doing,” Ujiri said. “‘Go play like Golden State.’ Well, we don’t have those types of players. You know, it’s hard to find those types of players. So, for me, we have to create ways where we think we’re going to win in this league, because it’s about winning. And I feel strongly that we can create our own style of play and bring these types of players and figure out a way to do it. Look, will it succeed? I pray it does. I’m hoping it does. And I think it will.”

COVID-19 Updates: Ujiri, Brooks, Young

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a team press release.

Ujiri believes he contracted the virus during a “Giants of Africa” meeting.

“On Sunday, Giants of Africa held our first in-person event since 2019,” Ujiri said in a statement. “It was organized in compliance with all current public health guidance – everyone who attended had to show proof of vaccination, and to wear masks when not eating or drinking. Unfortunately, after the gala, we learned of positive COVID-19 tests among our guests – and even though I am fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot, I also subsequently tested positive.

“I am now at home, observing the safety protocols by self-isolating for 10 days, monitoring for symptoms and undergoing testing, and I encourage everyone who attended to please do the same. We don’t want to live in fear of this virus, but COVID is a persistent enemy. Together, we’ll defeat it.”

Several others around the league have tested positive over the last 24 hours. Here’s a roundup:

  • Grizzlies swingman Dillon Brooks missed the team’s game against the Lakers after entering the league’s health and safety protocols, the team’s PR department tweets. Brooks scored 15 points against Dallas on Wednesday before he was ejected. He’s averaging 17.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG and 2.8 APG.
  • Suns assistant Kevin Young has yet to return to the club after being placed under protocols, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic tweets. Young has missed the last four games.
  • As we detailed earlier on Thursday, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has tested positive, Derrick Jones Jr. became the fifth Bulls player to enter protocols, and the Hornets will still be missing a handful of players on Friday due to protocols.

Raptors Notes: Siakam, Barnes, Ujiri, Rebuild

Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who returned from shoulder surgery on Sunday vs. Brooklyn, was limited to 25 minutes and admitted he felt some fatigue in his first game action since May.

“It was tough,” Siakam said, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. “After my first three minutes I think I needed some gas or something. My legs were heavy and I think I couldn’t breathe at one point, but it was expected.”

While getting Siakam back in the lineup makes the Raptors a more well-rounded and dangerous team in the long term, there may be some growing pains in the short term, writes Steven Loung of Sportsnet.ca. The 27-year-old is one of the club’s go-to scoring options, meaning the players that stepped up in his absence will have to adjust – or readjust – to new roles.

“Everybody else is kind of affected by him coming back,” point guard Fred VanVleet said. “He’s going to play heavy minutes and have the ball and he’s going to be a big part of the offense. So, offensively, I think it’s just finding our rhythm and spacing and the flow and learning how to play with Pascal. For me it was great. I missed playing with him. The other guys who were playing with him for the first time, there will probably be a little bit of a learning curve.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Count Nets superstar Kevin Durant among those who have come away impressed with what they’ve seen from Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes. “You’ve got a lot of guys who love to compete and love to win, but what’s more rare about Scottie Barnes is his IQ for the game, his length, his enthusiasm for the game. All of that stuff shines bright when you watch him play,” Durant said after Sunday’s game (link via Sportsnet.ca). “He knows how to play the right way and he’s only going to get better.”
  • In a Q&A with Louisa Thomas of The New Yorker, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri spoke about his desire to grow the game of basketball in Africa, the Raptors’ experience in Tampa, and why he decided to sign an extension with the franchise, among other topics.
  • The Raptors look ahead of schedule in their rebuilding process, in the view of William Lou of Sportsnet.ca.
  • In case you missed it, our Offseason in Review story on the Raptors was published earlier today.

Raptors Notes: VanVleet, Ujiri, Flynn, Injuries

Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet, one of just three holdovers from Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan era, is trying to lead a rebuilding Raptors squad much the same way DeRozan did alongside Kyle Lowry years ago, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic.

DeRozan paid his first visit to his old club as a Bull, proving that he remains an absolutely clutch scorer to close out games. The Bulls would go on to win, 111-108.

“This is a new dynamic,” DeRozan said of how VanVleet has evolved to become the Raptors’ leader. “The conversations I have with Fred now, (leading a rebuilding team) is a new dynamic in your career that you have to figure out. It’s tough. But every great player goes through it. There’s not too many guys that just have a polished career. It’s another obstacle you can learn from and build on and turn you into a much better player than you even knew you had in you.”

There’s more out of Toronto:

  • The current Raptors ownership group, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, has a convoluted structure, but it has ultimately enabled team president Masai Ujiri to run the organization as he sees fit, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. The various factions of the ownership group reportedly disagreed on the terms of Ujiri’s new contract, but that deal eventually got done earlier this year.
  • Raptors head coach Nick Nurse explained the lack of playing time for guard Malachi Flynn, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN (Twitter link). “There’s a Fred and there’s a Goran (Dragić) and we’ve given (rookie Dalano Banton) a run,” Nurse said. “And Dalano’s the one you should probably be asking me about. He’s played outstanding every minute he’s been out there. You guys should be all over me for not playing him more.” It sounds like it could be an uphill battle for Flynn to crack the club’s point guard rotation.
  • Injured Raptors forward Pascal Siakam was a full participant in the team’s practice today, and will join the club’s NBAGL affiliate, Raptors 905, to continue to work off the rust in their training camp, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN (via Twitter). Siakam has missed the team’s first three games with a shoulder injury. Small forward Yuta Watanabe also practiced with Toronto today and is considered to be nearing a return for the team, tweets Michael Grange of Sportsnet. Grange adds that Siakam might be on track to rejoin Toronto earlier than the initially-anticipated target date of mid-to-late November.

Raptors’ Ownership Group Fought Over Masai Ujiri Extension

Various factions of the Raptors‘ ownership group held divergent opinions on how to handle the contract negotiations with team president Masai Ujiri earlier this year, according to a fascinating report from Christine Dobby and Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Ujiri finalized a new long-term extension with the franchise in August.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Raptors, is controlled in part by Rogers Communications (37.5%), BCE (Bell) Inc. (37.5%), and team governor Larry Tanenbaum‘s Kilmer Group (25%).

Edward Rogers – the former chair of Rogers Communications who has recently been embroiled in a public battle for control of the company with his mother and siblings – opposed the terms of the deal that Tanenbaum and Bell wanted to offer Ujiri, expressing that the compensation was too high and that general manager Bobby Webster was capable of taking over control of the team’s front office if necessary, sources tell The Toronto Star.

According to Dobby and Smith, Rogers explicitly told Ujiri he didn’t think he was worth the salary the rest of the Raptors’ ownership group wanted to offer him, prompting MLSE executives to go into “damage-control mode” and to tell Ujiri to ignore those comments.

Rogers insisted he would only agree to the deal if a dozen terms were met, including 11 relating to Ujiri’s compensation and one that would see Rogers Communications take its 37.5% stake in MLSE and combine it with the Toronto Blue Jays to create a separate company. However, because Tanenbaum holds the title of Raptors governor, he had the authority to make the final call on personnel issues without Rogers’ sign-off, which is the path he chose to complete Ujiri’s deal, according to The Star.

Rogers, who was “furious,” reached out to commissioner Adam Silver, but was told by two league officials that Tanenbaum had the right to make that decision, per Dobby and Smith.

Asked on Sunday about the negotiations, Rogers said he has the “utmost respect” for Ujiri and is happy he remains in his current role.

“Masai understands better than anyone that negotiations test both sides,” Rogers said. “The best deals involve compromise and leave all parties feeling like winners.”

According to Dobby and Smith, Ujiri’s contract with the Raptors includes a $15MM annual salary, with the ability to earn more in incentive pay if the value of the franchise continues to increase. Ujiri also received the new title of vice chairman to go along with his president title.

A league source tells The Toronto Star that another NBA team offered Ujiri a 3% ownership stake, with a salary higher than the $15MM per year he received from the Raptors. Soccer teams in the English Premier League also expressed interest in Ujiri, per Dobby and Smith.

Stein’s Latest: Timberwolves, Ujiri, Simmons, Lacob, Dragic

Incoming Timberwolves owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore won’t assume majority control of the the franchise from Glen Taylor until 2023, but they’re operating in some ways as if they’re already the team’s primary owners, says Marc Stein of Substack.

Shortly after Gersson Rosas was dismissed this week, Timberwolves reporter Dane Moore suggested (via Twitter) that rumors have circulated for months that Rodriguez and Lore want to bring in a “top-five” front office executive. Stein doesn’t specifically confirm that rumor, but he corroborates it, writing that word circulated at Summer League in August that A-Rod and Lore would have loved to make a run at veteran executive Masai Ujiri, who ultimately re-upped with the Raptors.

While those reports suggest that the Wolves’ new ownership group wants to make a splash, league sources tell Stein that Sachin Gupta is expected to get every chance to impress the team during his time running the basketball operations department. According to Moore (Twitter link), Gupta – whose title is executive VP of basketball operations – doesn’t technically have the “interim” tag attached to his position, an indication that he’ll receive serious consideration for the permanent job.

Here’s more from Stein’s latest NBA roundup:

  • According to Stein, teams around the NBA are skeptical that the Sixers genuinely want to bring back Ben Simmons, viewing Doc Riversmedia comments on Wednesday as an attempt to regain trade leverage rather than a legitimate effort to mend the team’s relationship with Simmons.
  • It may seem odd that Warriors owner Joe Lacob was fined for comments about Simmons that didn’t even mention him by name and made it clear that Golden State isn’t really interested in the Sixers star. However, Stein says the tampering penalty was “as automatic as these ever get,” since there was no doubt Lacob was referring to Simmons, and his comments could be viewed as an attempt to diminish the 25-year-old’s trade value.
  • It doesn’t appear that any deal involving Goran Dragic is imminent. Stein writes that the Raptors want to be as competitive as possible this season, and Dragic can help with those efforts. Toronto also believes that more appealing trade scenarios could arise once the season gets underway and more teams need a point guard due to injuries or underperformance.