Masai Ujiri

And-Ones: Buyout Market, Epps, Stephenson, Ujiri, Ham

When the NBA and NBA Players’ Association hold CBA renewal talks, the league plans to consider bringing up buyout reform as part of a broader discussion, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Some team executives have complained about the plethora of veteran players getting buyouts and joining playoff contenders.

Commissioner Adam Silver‘s office doesn’t see it as an issue of fairness between big and small markets, but rather a process that is contradictory to the financial system’s goals. In the league’s view, teams with big payrolls are adding an impact player without a dramatic impact on their luxury tax penalties, since those salaries after clearing waivers are usually prorated minimums.

The NBA would also like to find a way to make players who have been bought out available to more teams than just the contenders.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Aaron Epps has signed in Israel with Elitzur Eito Ashkelon, sources told Hoops Rumors’ JD Shaw (Twitter link). Epps holds G League experience with the Northern Arizona Suns and Canton Charge, most recently playing with Canton in the bubble.
  • Veteran NBA swingman Lance Stephenson is hopeful of playing in the league again, David Aldridge of The Athletic tweets. He has been working out in New York for the last few weeks, in case a suitor comes calling. The 30-year-old last played in the NBA with the Lakers in 2019.
  • There’s some speculation around the league that Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri may eventually wind up in Seattle if the league approves a new franchise, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times. The group heading expansion efforts in Seattle includes longtime sports executive Tim Leiweke, who hired Ujiri as Toronto’s executive vice president and GM in 2013.
  • Texas Tech has received permission to interview Bucks assistant Darvin Ham for its head coaching vacancy, Wojnarowski tweets. Ham led the school to the Sweet 16 in 1996 and played in the NBA from ’96 to 2005.

Atlantic Notes: Aldridge, Ujiri, Fournier, Powell

The Nets just added former seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to their gallery of decorated vets, prompting Alex Schiffer of The Athletic to examine how the power forward/center can fit on such a deep roster — especially one with a suddenly-crowded frontcourt. Aldridge figures to serve as a floor-stretching small ball center and a competent defender around the basket.

Meanwhile, Kevin Pelton of ESPN details why Aldridge may not be such a smooth fit on a club that may struggle to parse out minutes effectively among veterans like Aldridge, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, plus ascendant young big man Nicolas Claxton and even switchable forwards Kevin Durant and Joe Harris.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Raptors team president Masai Ujiri has made plenty of incredible moves during his tenure with the club, but his failure to improve the team’s center rotation this season has to be considered one of his biggest oversights, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. After losing big men Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to star-studded Los Angeles teams in the 2020 offseason, Ujiri signed Aron Baynes and Alex Len as their primary replacements. The Raptors cut Len in January (he has since proved productive in a limited role with the Wizards), and have had trouble scoring with Baynes on the floor.
  • Ahead of his arrival in Boston, new Celtics shooting guard Evan Fournier had a false positive COVID-19 test, according to Tom Westerholm of Boston.com. An unrestricted free agent this summer, Fournier has remained relatively mum when it comes to addressing his future with the Celtics. “My focus right now is just to learn the plays, learn how to play with my teammate[s], and win games,” Fournier said. ” I like to stay in the present, stay in the moment.” Fournier is currently on an expiring $17.5MM contract.
  • Trail Blazers shooting guard Norman Powell, a longtime Raptors fixture, penned an emotional goodbye to Toronto in the Players’ Tribune. “I kept it together for a while,” Powell said of hearing about the deal. “And then I saw Jama Mahlalela. Jama is one of our assistant coaches, and he was also my very first coach when I got to Toronto. He’s known me literally since Summer League, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with him super closely. And he came in to give me a hug, and, man … I just heard it in his voice… and that was it. After that, it was a wrap. It was straight-up waterworks. I started breaking down crying … all the memories that I’d been holding back for those last couple of days, they came rushing back in.”

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Ujiri, Bembry, Watson

During the hours leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca tweeted that the Sixers and Raptors appeared to be “at the one-yard line” in their discussions on a Kyle Lowry trade. Obviously, those talks didn’t make it into the end zone and Lowry ended up staying put. But Sam Amick of The Athletic hears that Toronto did feel at one point as if a deal with Philadelphia was close.

According to Amick, the deal would have included Danny Green, who would’ve been re-routed to a third team. It’s a safe bet that at least one of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle would have been part of the package too. However, the draft compensation involved in the proposed trade was the obstacle that held things up, a source tells Amick.

Following up today on the Lowry discussions, Grange says (via Twitter) that the Sixers knew Miami was Lowry’s preferred landing spot, so they had to view him as a possible rental. That limited what they were willing to offer beyond Maxey, Grange adds. The Lakers were in a similar boat with Talen Horton-Tucker, writes Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca, while the Heat were unwilling to offer Tyler Herro for a player they could theoretically sign in free agency this summer.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • While the Raptors didn’t trade Lowry at the deadline, it’s hard to shake the sense that more drastic changes could be coming as soon as this offseason, Grange writes for Sportsnet.ca. While Lowry could sign a new contract with Toronto, it seems just as likely that he could head elsewhere, possibly in a sign-and-trade deal.
  • Like Lowry, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri is also on an expiring contract, and while he spoke glowingly about the franchise on Thursday, he gave no indication that an in-season extension is around the corner. “We’ll visit this at the end of the season at some point,” Ujiri said of his contract with Toronto, per Grange.
  • During his media session on Thursday, Ujiri addressed the idea that the Raptors’ asking price for Lowry was too high: “I was surprised (the offers) weren’t better because, to be honest, I’ve viewed him as somebody that can go out and put a stamp on what you can do this year. … I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it… I know what the guy does. I know who he is. And that’s the truth. So, yeah, we’re going to (be) skewed in some kind of way and I’m biased in many ways with the players we have and I hope I’m pardoned that if I valued him too much, but that’s what I believe in today.”
  • Raptors reserves DeAndre’ Bembry and Paul Watson have entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and won’t play on Friday night, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

Eastern Rumors: Beal, Sixers, Tucker, Heat, Ujiri

Much to the chagrin of potential suitors, Wizards star Bradley Beal remains unavailable in trade discussions, with one rival executive who has been repeatedly rebuffed suggesting to Tom Haberstroh of TrueHoop that he has essentially given up the chase for the time being.

“In terms of franchise loyalty, I think Beal is in the same category as Steph (Curry) and Dame (Lillard) right now,” that exec said, referring to two other All-Star guards who have spent their entire careers with a single franchise.

In fact, Beal and Lillard have bonded over their unwillingness to leave the teams that drafted them in search of a club that could provide them an easier path to a championship, according to Jason Quick and Fred Katz of The Athletic. Beal spoke to Lillard in 2019 about the Trail Blazers star’s commitment to Portland before signing his own extension with the Wizards.

“I know how he feels because I get that all the time: ‘You should go here; you should go there …’ from all kinds of different people, and I know he gets it too,” Lillard said of Beal. “We’ve had that conversation. … He has the same feeling about it as I have: I just don’t want to go elsewhere. This is our ninth year. We’ve been so invested in this to where it’s like, this is what it is. This is where I want to get it done. And I’m sure he feels that same way.”

Haberstroh’s latest story at TrueHoop features several more items of interest and is worth checking out in full if you’re a subscriber. Here are some highlights from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Top Sixers executive Daryl Morey is widely expected to be active at the trade deadline, with several rival execs believing that Rockets forward P.J. Tucker will ultimately land in Philadelphia, says Haberstroh.
  • On the other hand, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is considered less likely to make a big splash at the deadline. “That’s not Danny’s style,” one Eastern Conference general manager said.
  • Haberstroh suggests John Wall and Kyle Lowry could be among the Heat‘s targets if the club decides to pursue a major deadline move.
  • Haberstroh’s sources view Masai Ujiri‘s ongoing lack of contract extension with the Raptors as a “notable non-event” and wonder if his actions at the trade deadline will provide a hint of his future plans. Ujiri’s contract with Toronto expires this offseason.

Raptors Notes: Ujiri, Powell, G League, Trade Eligibility

Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Strickland, who filed a lawsuit against Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri following an altercation at the end of Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, has dropped that suit, as Lisa Fernandez of KTVU FOX 2 reports.

Near the end of the Raptors’ Finals-clinching win in Oakland, Ujiri attempted to get onto the court for the celebration and was stopped by Strickland, who claimed that Ujiri didn’t have the proper credentials and that the Raptors president assaulted him. Body-camera footage released later showed Ujiri attempting to present his credentials and Strickland shoving him twice before Ujiri shoved back in retaliation.

Masai has been completely vindicated, as we always knew he would be,” Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, the Raptors’ ownership group, said in a statement (link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). “… We continue to be deeply troubled by the fact that Masai was put in this position in the first plae, and believe he should never have had to defend himself. Masai is taking some time to process the ordeal, and intends to address it publicly at a later date.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • After getting off to a slow start this season, Norman Powell is on a roll lately, averaging 23.4 PPG on .507/.475/.872 shooting in nine games since entering the starting lineup on January 22. As Blake Murphy of The Athletic writes, Powell’s success will create some challenging decisions for the team in the short term – whether he’ll continue starting when OG Anunoby returns – and in the long term, since Powell can reach unrestricted free agency this summer.
  • The Raptors 905 – Toronto’s G League affiliate – received NBAGL Franchise of the Year honors for the 2019/20 season, according to a press release issued on Tuesday. Per the announcement, the club was recognized not only for its play on the court, but its “excellent behind-the-scenes work” and activity in the community. “We said when Raptors 905 started that we intended to make this the best franchise in the G League, and we are really proud that we’ve been recognized for that,” Ujiri said in a statement.
  • While Aron Baynes and DeAndre’ Bembry became trade-eligible last weekend, a handful of Raptors players still can’t be dealt. Paul Watson‘s trade restrictions will lift on February 25, while Chris Boucher and Fred VanVleet will be ineligible to be moved until March 3.

Fischer’s Latest: Beal, Wizards, Pelicans, Hawks, Ujiri

Reiterating a point made by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday and Wizards head coach Scott Brooks on Saturday, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report confirms that Bradley Beal is not available via trade, citing one longtime executive who notes that the team’s stance on the matter appears sincere and isn’t a bluff to drive up the guard’s price.

Despite there being no change in Beal’s potential availability, it continues to be a popular subject of speculation around the NBA. As Fischer explains, opposing front offices anticipate an “inevitable inflection point,” since there’s an expectation that the Wizards won’t be able to transform into a contender before Beal becomes eligible for free agency in 2022.

That inflection point isn’t here yet though, and the expectation is that it won’t arrive prior to this season’s trade deadline. According to Fischer, there’s a sentiment around the league that, regardless of Washington’s record, team ownership is unlikely to approve a Beal trade until the 2021 offseason at the very earliest.

“Teams say it all the time, but you feel like it’s real,” one assistant GM told Fischer, referring to the Wizards’ unwillingness to engage.

Here are a few more items of note from Fischer’s latest report:

  • New Orleans’ interest in Beal is one of the “biggest open secrets” around the league, according to Fischer, who suggests that the Pelicans and Hawks could be among the potential suitors for the Wizards guard if he eventually hits the trade block. Washington had been eyeing Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 9 pick in the 2020 draft before Atlanta scooped him up at No. 6, Fischer notes.
  • The Hawks “widely signaled” prior to draft night in the fall that Kevin Huerter was available via trade, per Fischer. It’s unclear whether the team’s stance has changed at all since then or if Huerter will be a trade candidate at next month’s deadline.
  • Word in NBA circles is that the Wizards may try to make another run at Masai Ujiri this summer, according to Fischer, who says the franchise has some deep-pocketed minority stakeholders interested in pursuing the Raptors‘ president of basketball operations. Although the Wizards denied it at the time, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in June 2019 that the club was ready to make an aggressive offer to Ujiri, whose contract with Toronto expires later this year.

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Robinson, Ibaka, Toppin

Nets coach Steve Nash contends that the schedule for All-Star forward Kevin Durant‘s return from his COVID-19 protocol-necessitated quarantining is a “moving target,” according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. On Tuesday, Durant commenced his quarantine, per NBA health and safety protocols, after being exposed to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The belief was that the quarantine would last seven days.

“My understanding is that it is a quarantine, so I don’t think there will be any on-court activity,” Nash said. “There’s negative tests, days from the contact tracing and all sorts of factors that go into it. So, I don’t really have an answer yet on how long.” The Nets crushed the Jazz 130-96 in their first test without Durant.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has been improving his efforts to avoid foul calls, Greg Joyce of the New York Post reports. “It’s actually, like, nobody wants to get yelled at by the coaches, so I’ve been just trying to maintain that the best way that I can,” Robinson said. “I’ve been working on it.” The young big man is averaging 3.0 fouls per game in 29.6 MPG, a marked improvement over his 3.2 fouls in 23.1 MPG during the 2019/20 season.
  • Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster apparently frustrated free agent center/power forward Serge Ibaka when the club offered him a number below what he was hoping for in an attempt to leave some cap space to re-sign starting center Marc Gasol, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet. Toronto bumped its one-year offer from $12MM to $14MM, but Ibaka apparently also did not want to continue being a backup to Gasol. Both players wound up departing for cheaper deals with Los Angeles title contenders, and the 1-5 (as of this writing) Raptors appear to be missing the two-way skill set of their championship frontcourt tandem.
  • Following an evaluation yesterday, Knicks power forward Obi Toppin will begin running and jumping as he continues to rehabilitate from a right calf strain, according to Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic (Twitter link). After this, Toppin will subsequently move on to on-court workouts. The rookie hurt the calf in the club’s December 23 opening night bout against the Pacers. “He’s making good progress and we just have to be patient,” new head coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Giannis Notes: Signing Process, Masai, Butler, Small Markets

Two-time Bucks MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has inked a five-year, $228.2MM super-max contract extension to stay in Milwaukee. Shams Charania, Eric Nehm, and Sam Amick of The Athletic take an in-depth look into the process that saw the star forward opt to remain with the team that drafted him in 2013.

The Bucks made a big splash early in the offseason when they traded for defensive-oriented veteran guard Jrue Holiday. After a botched Bogdan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade deal, Antetokounmpo apparently wavered on a Milwaukee return — Giannis had strived to recruit the then-Kings guard, now with the Hawks.

The star stayed in touch with the Milwaukee front office throughout the offseason before coming to a decision, even though it took longer for him to sign on the dotted line than perhaps initially anticipated.

There’s more news surrounding ripple effects of the Giannis decision:

  • Now that Antetokounmpo will be forgoing free agency for the immediate future, Raptors team president Masai Ujiri will have to get creative when it comes to team-building, per Eric Koreen of the Athletic. Using a bevy of assets towards a trade for Rockets guard James Harden or Wizards guard Bradley Beal could make sense for Toronto. Ujiri’s contract with the Raptors will expire this offseason, and Koreen wonders if the loss of Antetokounmpo as a free agent prospect could affect Ujiri’s decision to remain with the Raptors long-term.
  • With Antetokounmpo no longer be a free agent candidate for the Heat next summer, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald breaks down the next steps Miami can take as it strives for long-term title contention, as well the reaction of Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler. Rather than expressing disappointment, the ultra-competitive wing appeared excited for the opportunity to do battle with the Bucks MVP soon. “I like it,” Butler said. “I don’t think you can go around him [for a title].”
  • The new extension for Antetokounmpo is not just a victory for the Bucks, but for the NBA and all its small market clubs, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today contends. Giannis’ decision to stay with Milwaukee long term will free up general manager Jon Horst to build a team up around him without needing to worry about a starrier squad snatching him in 2021 free agency, Zillgitt notes.

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Ujiri, Sixers, Knicks

The Raptors announced in a press release on Monday that three members of their organization tested positive for COVID-19 during the league-mandated testing period prior to training camp. Those three people are self-isolating, with the club indicating that follow-up testing has revealed no further spread to other members of the organization.

As Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca tweets, head coach Nick Nurse said on Sunday that all the Raptors’ players were able to participate in the club’s first group practice. As such, it sounds like the people who tested positive for the coronavirus are likely non-players, though that hasn’t been confirmed.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri is the franchise’s biggest free-agent-to-be for 2021, Michael Grange writes in an interesting, in-depth story for Sportsnet.ca. As Grange writes, Ujiri – whom league insiders expect to become the NBA’s highest-paid executive – seems content to slow-play negotiations on his next contract. “They’d have to be nuts not to (want to sign him),” one of Grange’s sources said of Raptors ownership. “It’s not like there’s a Plan A and a Plan B. There’s only Plan A, and it’s him. But he’s a very deliberate guy, and the kind of guy you have to respect his space.”
  • Sixers star Ben Simmons admitted in a media session on Friday that accountability was an issue for the club last season, as Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes. However, he believes that will change under new head coach Doc Rivers, despite the fact that Rivers’ former team in L.A. reportedly had accountability problems in 2019/20 too. “Bringing in Doc and all these guys in, and Doc’s team, with all these coaches around, the maturity has definitely risen with the team,” Simmons said.
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said he’s “focused on the players that we have here,” but acknowledged that the team’s $18MM in cap room could come in handy at some point, per Marc Berman of The New York Post. “I think improving your club never ends,” Thibodeau said. “… Obviously we can use the cap space to get a player. We can trade. There’s a lot of things that we can do, and I don’t think that ever stops.”

Raptors Notes: Anunoby, Webster, Ujiri, Lowry

Speaking today to reporters, including Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press (Twitter link), Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said that veteran centers Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol were “incredible for us.” However, Toronto’s long-term plans meant that the team was “limited in terms and years” when it came to making Ibaka and Gasol contract offers.

The Raptors’ limitations stem from the club’s desire to maintain as much cap flexibility as possible for the 2021 offseason. As such, it remains to be seen whether or not forward OG Anunoby will receive a contract extension before the December 21 deadline. A new contract for Anunoby, which would begin in 2021/22, would cut into Toronto’s cap room if the starting salary on that new deal exceeds his cap hold as a restricted free agent ($11.6MM).

I think there are talks to be had,” Ujiri said today, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). “They know of the abilities that we want, so we’ll keep having those conversations. The most important thing is we’re excited about OG.”

Anunoby, who spoke to reporters on Friday, confirmed that his agent was engaged in discussions with the Raptors about a possible extension, suggesting he’d have a better idea closer to the December 21 deadline whether a new deal is a realistic possibility (Twitter link via Lewenberg).

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Ujiri suggested today that the club has either completed or is close to finalizing extensions for most of his front office staffers, including general manager Bobby Webster (Twitter links via Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun and Blake Murphy of The Athletic). Ujiri said there’s been too much going on to focus on his own extension yet, but that he’ll go into those talks with a “very positive mind and attitude” and hopes to get something done (Twitter link via Lewenberg).
  • Ujiri isn’t ready to say one way or the other whether the Raptors will be able to host fans at their Tampa arena this season, noting that he has a meeting this afternoon to discuss the possibility (Twitter link via Wolstat).
  • Asked about the possibility of Kyle Lowry retiring as a Raptor, Ujiri referred to the veteran point guard as a future Hall-of-Famer, suggesting the team would be happy to continue its union with Lowry beyond 2021. He’s been incredibly respectful to the organization and we will have that same respect to Kyle anytime, everyday,” Ujiri said (Twitter link via Lewenberg).
  • The Raptors announced a series of coaching hires and promotions in a Friday press release, including Chris Finch and Jama Mahlalela as assistants on Nick Nurse‘s staff and Patrick Mutombo as the head coach of the Raptors 905, Toronto’s G League affiliate.