Masai Ujiri

Raptors’ Chairman: Masai Ujiri “Here To Stay”

As one report after another links Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri to the Knicks, Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum tells Michael Traikos of The Toronto Sun that there’s no reason to believe Ujiri won’t remain in Toronto beyond the expiration of his current contract in 2021. Given Ujiri’s track record, interest from the Knicks – and other teams – comes as no surprise, but the Raptors don’t plan to just let him walk away.

“He is the best,” Tanenbaum said. “But no team can come to talk to him. That’s tampering. And every owner knows that. Masai is here to stay.”

A recent Howard Beck report suggested that Ujiri has turned down a lucrative contract extension offer from the Raptors, but that was disputed this week by Michael Grange of Sportsnet. Tanenbaum confirmed to Traikos that Ujiri hasn’t rejected a contract offer.

“We haven’t talked (about an extension) at this point in time, but if you ask him, his intentions are pretty clear,” Tanenbaum said. Asked why the Raptors haven’t yet offered Ujiri an extension, Tanenbaum explained: “Masai has a contract that goes for another two years — this season and next season — so there’s really no need at this point (to re-sign him).”

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski reiterated in a report this morning that there have been no extension talks yet between Ujiri and the Raptors, but said Toronto ownership might make an offer in 2020 that expands Ujiri’s responsibilities and increases his compensation.

As Shelburne and Woj note, Knicks owner James Dolan has long been interested in Ujiri, who has consistently won trades with the Knicks, dating back to when he extracted a significant package for Carmelo Anthony as the Nuggets’ head of basketball operations. Dolan has privately expressed a fascination with Ujiri and shared those feelings with common friends, sources tell the ESPN duo.

Latest On Knicks’ Potential Front Office Search

The Knicks are planning to make a run at top Raptors executive Masai Ujiri and Marc Stein of The New York Times reports (via his latest newsletter) that there are many around the league who believe Ujiri can be lured to New York.

Even though the Knicks have been laughable on the court, the prestige of the franchise and of winning it all in the arguably the greatest city in the world carries weight with top executives in the NBA. Entering Madison Square Garden’s latest rehabilitation project and coming out with a championship remains a unique and coveted prize.

Regardless of whom New York lands, the franchise’s next architect will face his share of challenges. It’s not certain if owner James Dolan is finally ready to give his top executive something that resembles “real autonomy,” Stein writes. Even Phil Jackson, who was relieved of his duties before his contract was up, didn’t get nearly enough freedom to make internal moves that could have impacted the culture. Stein adds that Dolan has given zero indication that he will sell the team.

In addition to Ujiri, Stein mentions R.C. Buford (Spurs), Bob Myers (Warriors) and Donnie Nelson (Mavericks) as names to keep an eye on when it comes to a potential top executive search in New York.

Eastern Notes: George, Pacers, Ujiri, Heat, Beal, Love

It has been nearly two-and-a-half years since Paul George was traded by the Pacers to the Thunder, but fans in Indiana still booed George – now on Clipper – on Monday whenever he touched the ball, as if this was his first game back, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. George, who said he wasn’t surprised by being booed, also hinted that the full story of his departure from Indiana still hasn’t come out.

“You know, someday I’ll do a tell-all and tell the leading events of how I left Indiana,” George said. “And I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.

“… I’m not gonna share the teaser,” George later said. “… I like being the villain. I’m here two nights out of the year. The people they should boo is here a lot longer than I am.”

The George trade was one of the first major moves made by Kevin Pritchard, who became Indiana’s head of basketball operations during the spring of 2017. While George implied on Monday that the Pacers franchise may be partially to blame for the circumstances surrounding that trade, he declined to criticize Pritchard, as Youngmisuk notes.

“I’m not going to bad-mouth KP,” George said when told that Pritchard said George’s trade request felt like a punch in the gut. “That’s just Kevin’s side of the story.”

Here’s more from around the East:

  • Howard Beck of Bleacher Report recently reported that Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri turned down a lucrative extension offer, but Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca hears from sources that the offer didn’t happen. Still, Grange wouldn’t be surprised if Ujiri is interested in testing the “free agent” market at some point, and believes the Knicks could be a real threat to lure him away from Toronto.
  • The Heat would have had serious interest in Bradley Beal if the Wizards had made him available in trade talks or if he had reached free agency in 2021. Instead, Beal re-upped with Washington, signing a two-year extension earlier this year. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald caught up with Beal to ask the Wizards’ star whether he considered the possibility of a move to the Heat before inking that new deal. Beal’s answer? “Yes and no.” Jackson has the full story and quotes.
  • Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald explains why the Celtics shouldn’t be viewed as a potential suitor for Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who is reportedly on the trade block.

Knicks Notes: Mills, Ujiri, Smith Jr., Fizdale

Steve Mills’ absence from the media in the wake of David Fizdale’s firing is a sign of his own uncertain future with the organization, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. Neither Mills nor general manager Scott Perry addressed reporters Saturday, leaving that task to interim coach Mike Miller. There have been no comments from management explaining why Fizdale was let go, except for a two-sentence press release issued Friday to announce the move.

Choosing Fizdale over 11 other candidates — including reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer — and giving him a four-year contract were Mills’ most recent mistakes since rejoining the team in 2012/13, Berman notes. The Knicks are on their way to their seventh straight losing season in that time.

Berman is the latest to report that the Knicks plan to make a run at Raptors executive Masai Ujiri after the season ends. Owner James Dolan considered trying to lure Ujiri two years ago before promoting Mills to president, Berman states, but decided the price in draft compensation would be too steep. Sources tell Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that Ujiri is “intrigued” at the challenge of fixing the Knicks, but people close to him are warning against it. Ujiri turned down a lucrative extension offer last summer, according to Beck, and has an out clause in his contract that allows him to leave the Raptors under certain circumstances.

There’s more this morning from New York:

  • Knicks players have been told not to share the reasons for Fizdale’s ouster, Berman adds in the same story. “They gave us the reasoning,’’ Dennis Smith Jr. said. “You’ve got to appreciate them giving a reason, too, because they didn’t have to do that. So they gave us a reason, told us what they expect moving forward. I think everyone has to (keep it) private.’’
  • Fizdale’s fate was sealed when Mills and Perry held a post-game press conference on November 11, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN. That surprise session with the media followed a halftime meeting with Dolan during a blowout loss to the Cavaliers. It was determined at that point that a coaching change was coming, a source tells Andrews, and the only question was when.
  • Fizdale is receiving support from his fellow coaches in the wake of his dismissal. “I’m happy for Fizdale to be out of that terrible mess that he had nothing to do with,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter link). Former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni suggested something is missing in the organization, relays Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “I hate it for Fizdale,” he said. “Good coach. Did a good job. It just didn’t work out and they can’t quite seem to get all the elements together.”

Knicks Reportedly “Obsessed” With Masai Ujiri

The Knicks are “obsessed” and “enamored” with Raptors executive Masai Ujiri as the next man to run the franchise, sources tell Ian Begley of SNY.tv. A front office shakeup is expected in the wake of yesterday’s firing of head coach David Fizdale, especially considering the poor track record of team president Steve Mills.

Begley speculates it would take “significant money and full autonomy” to land Ujiri, who is already in a comfortable spot after building a championship team. Even if the Knicks are willing to grant that, Ujiri may not want to work for a controversial figure like James Dolan, and he is signed with Toronto until 2021, a contract he said in October that he plans to honor.

Echoing a report we shared last week, Begley states that the Knicks believe Ujiri could be drawn to New York City to provide a larger platform for his charitable work with the Giants of Africa Foundation. However, there was similar speculation about Washington, D.C., a few months ago when the Wizards were restructuring their front office, and Ujiri opted to stay in Toronto.

There’s more Knicks news to pass along:

  • Despite a 4-18 start and six straight losing seasons, the Knicks’ front office job is still viewed as appealing around the league, Begley adds in the same story. The team has drafted well under general manager Scott Perry and has held on to its first-round picks. The Knicks also retained cap flexibility by signing seven players to short-term contracts this summer after failing to land their top targets in free agency.
  • A few players got to say goodbye to Fizdale before he left the team, Taj Gibson tells Begley (Twitter link). Gibson said Fizdale was emotional during the departure, adding, “Guys loved him.”
  • Mark Jackson, a former Knicks guard and ex-head coach of the Warriors, is a 5-1 favorite to be the next head coach, relays Adam Zagoria for Forbes. The oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag have Kenny Smith second at 6-1 and Italian coach Ettore Messina at 7-1. Next in line are three college coaches, Michigan’s Juwan Howard, Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse and Villanova’s Jay Wright.
  • Interim coach Mike Miller thanked Fizdale and the Knicks organization during today’s pre-game press conference (video link from Vorkunov). Neither Mills nor Perry has addressed the media since the firing became official, and nobody from management has commented apart from an unattributed statement that was released Friday.
  • Former NBA player Keith Bogans has been named to Miller’s staff, the Knicks announced on Twitter.

Knicks Notes: Knox, Ntilikina, Porzingis, Ujiri

Knicks head coach David Fizdale is using the term “tough love” to describe his decision to bench second-year forward Kevin Knox, writes Peter Botte of The New York Post. Knox was held out of Friday’s loss to the Sixers and had only been averaging 12.1 minutes per night in the previous four games. It’s been a trend for the ninth overall pick in last year’s draft, whose minutes have fallen from 28.8 per game in 2018/19 to 19.8 this season.

“Sometimes they’ve got to go through some tough love to find themselves and watch the game from 25,000 feet, see it, and see the things that I’m emphasizing,” Fizdale said after Saturday’s practice. “I was tough on Frank (Ntilikina) last year and I just feel like Frank has come back with a whole different mindset about how he’s going to go about this season. I’ve been so happy with the way he’s played and produced. But I do think a little bit of tough love on some of these young guys isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Knox will be “a consideration, for sure” to return to the lineup today, Fizdale added. Marcus Morris is listed as questionable for the game because of cervical spasms in his neck.

There’s more from New York this morning:

  • Ntilikina tells Botte that he benefited from last year’s experience and encourages Knox to find ways to help the team when he’s not on the court. Ntilikina began this season out of the rotation, but has made 14 consecutive starts at point guard. He said an offseason meeting with Fizdale gave him a new perspective. “There’s a lot of noise with this team, a lot of expectations,” Ntilikina explained. “Around this city, a lot of expectations. Obviously, those expectations are for us to get better. But what we have to understand, too, is we have expectations, and [Fizdale] wants us to get better, and he wants us to be the best team possible. He wants us to be the best possible, that’s the same for every player.”
  • Former Knicks guard Trey Burke, who was part of the package sent to Dallas in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, offered some insight into Porzingis’ perspective on the deal and his falling out with management in New York, relays Marc Berman of The New York Post. “A lot of things the press said, he felt like wasn’t true,’’ Burke said. “He feels like there was a narrative that got out about him, he couldn’t defend himself. I don’t know if (Dallas) told him not to talk that much, but he wasn’t talking. I do think he has his side.’’
  • The Knicks may try to lure Raptors executive Masai Ujiri after the season ends, and there are fears in Toronto that he might accept their offer, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. Ujiri may view New York City as a larger platform to help expand his Giants of Africa foundation, which aids children in his home continent.

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Ibaka, Ujiri

Kyle Lowry is targeting December 1 for his return to the lineup, Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet relays (Twitter link). Lowry hasn’t played for the Raptors since early November because of a thumb injury.

Here’s more from Toronto:

  • There was hope that Serge Ibaka would make his return on Saturday, Grange notes, but the big man will not return from his right ankle injury this weekend. Patrick McCaw, who is recovering from a knee injury, is ahead of schedule but there is still no definite timetable for his return.
  • Trevor Cole of Toronto Life delivers an in-depth profile of Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, detailing the executive’s routines and his path to the top of the organization in Toronto. Ujiri began his career in international scouting.
  • In the same piece, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet provided some insight into what makes Ujiri great. “He values the little things about a person more than just their basketball talent,” said VanVleet.

Wizards Rumors: Bertans, Rebuild, Ujiri, Grant

When the Spurs traded Davis Bertans to the Wizards this offseason, they viewed it as a necessary step to open up their mid-level exception to sign Marcus Morris. However, after Morris reneged on his agreement with San Antonio, Gregg Popovich was upset to have lost Bertans in the process.

As Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington relays, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks acknowledged that Popovich praised the Latvian forward when the two coaches talked over the summer. While Bertans was known for his shooting ability, Popovich believed the former Spur could take on a more dynamic role.

“[Popovich] is a good scout,” Brooks said on Wednesday, per Hughes. “He nailed it on [Bertans] when I talked to him over the summer. He said, ‘[Davis] is more than a shooter.'”

Bertans is making good on Popovich’s scouting report so far, exhibiting an ability to handle the ball and create his own shot. The 27-year-old may also be turning into a valuable trade chip for the Wizards, writes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link).

“Bertans is a difference-maker when it comes to his play on the court,” a scout told Marks. “Don’t be surprised if teams are willing to give up a first-rounder for him closer to the deadline.”

Here’s more on the Wizards:

  • Wizards owner Ted Leonsis doesn’t necessarily believe that the team needs to endure a long, painful rebuilding process before returning to contention, as Candace Buckner of The Washington Post writes. “Next year, we’ll have John Wall back. We’ll have a little bit of space under the salary cap,” Leonsis said. “I think the NBA is very different this year than it’s been in the past, and I stick with, I think, our turnaround can be quick and fast, but we don’t have any expectations about wins and losses. It’s more about culture, identity and what players will be with us on a long-term basis.”
  • In an in-depth profile of Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, Trevor Cole of Toronto Life says the Wizards “unofficially” conveyed to Ujiri this past offseason that they’d be willing to give him whatever he wanted – including a stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Wizards – to run their front office. The Wizards denied reports of their interest in Ujiri in June.
  • The Capital City Go-Go – Washington’s G League affiliate – claimed Jerian Grant off waivers earlier this week, tweets Fred Katz of The Athletic. Grant, a former first-round pick with four years of NBA experience under his belt, recently signed a G League contract following a brief stint in China.

Knicks Eyeing Masai Ujiri, Sam Presti For Potential Front Office Opening?

Knicks management has reportedly been put on notice with owner James Dolan expecting the front office to make “progress” in order for several members of the front office to keep their jobs. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News hears that if New York finds itself hiring a new head of basketball operations, the team’s wish list begins with Raptors team president Masai Ujiri and Thunder GM Sam Presti.

Dolan has long been a fan of Ujiri’s. The Wizards took a stab at prying the executive from Toronto this past offseason with no success. Perhaps Dolan believes the Knicks will have better luck.

Presti has been with Oklahoma City for 12 seasons and he has arguably the most unique resume of any GM in the league. He drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden to build a true contender and after each player left has molded a different team, ranging from contender to mid-tier playoff team to one in a rebuild again.

Bondy also mentions Trajan Langdon – who helped the Nets turn their franchise around before moving onto the Pelicans – and Kiki Vandeweghe – who currently works in the league office – as potential targets. Bondy hears that Vandeweghe would have interest in the job.

Knicks Notes: Fizdale, M. Jackson, Ujiri, DSJ

Asked today about his reaction to an ESPN report that suggested team president Steve Mills is laying the groundwork to eventually fire him, head coach David Fizdale told reporters that he talks every day with Mills and GM Scott Perry, and that they’ve been supportive of him (Twitter links via Ian Begley of SNY.tv). However, it doesn’t sound as if Fizdale hasn’t received any specific assurances about his job security.

I got a two-and-a-half year contract,” Fizdale said, per Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic (Twitter link). “That’s my assurance. That’s our business. The assurance is that I have a contract.”

According to Begley (video link), Knicks ownership isn’t expected to have a “heavy hand” in the team’s head coaching decision. Any move involving Fizdale would be made solely by Mills, says Begley.

As we wait to see what’s next for Fizdale and the Knicks, here are a few more notes on the team:

  • Chris Mannix of SI.com tweets that Mark Jackson is a name to watch if the Knicks make a head coaching change, since Jackson is a Perry favorite who was a candidate before the team hired Fizdale in 2018. Sean Deveney of Heavy.com identifies Kenny Smith, Chauncey Billups, Mike Woodson, and Tom Thibodeau as others who could emerge as candidates in that scenario, while Newsday’s Steve Popper (Twitter link) mentions Jason Kidd.
  • In response to a report that the Knicks may pursue Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri again next year, Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca tweets that he doesn’t believe Ujiri would ever want to work for Knicks owner James Dolan under any circumstance.
  • While the Knicks have been criticized for their return in last season’s Kristaps Porzingis trade, the club remains hopeful about Dennis Smith Jr.‘s long-term prospects and those two first-round picks coming their way, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “We don’t know what Dennis Smith is going to be,” Fizdale said. “He’s 21 years old. We’ve still got two first-round picks out of that. Who knows who that’s going to be? We won’t know exactly what comes out of that for a year or two.”