Masai Ujiri

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 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 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 (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.

Raptors Will Begin The Season In Tampa

12:53pm: The Raptors will play their home games at Amalie Arena, reports Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (via Twitter). That’s the home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

12:03pm: The Raptors‘ plan to start the 2020/21 season at their home arena was rejected today by the Canadian government, according to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. As a result the team will play its home games in Tampa, team president Masai Ujiri announced.

“Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020/21 season in Tampa, Florida,” Ujiri said in a statement. “We want to thank all levels of government, and their public health officials, for their dedication to this process and for looking after the health of Canadians. We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to playing in Toronto.”

The Raptors considered several cities, but Tampa was the most popular choice among players, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. Management took that into consideration and it affected the final decision.

Canada has imposed restrictions limiting travel from the U.S. to guard against the spread of COVID-19. Those sanctions were extended today until at least December 21, according to a tweet from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We’re trying to do what’s best for the organization,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said this week. “So you can kind of go down the line. You know, what is first and foremost? The players. What does the practice facility look like? What would be the accommodations around the medical facilities, the medical treatment? Obviously you need to have an arena that fits NBA standards. There’s a ton of broadcast issues. There’s health and safety. There’s availability for arena dates. There’s a ton of stuff there.”

The Raptors don’t have much time to work out the logistics of playing in Florida. Next season starts in 32 days and the league plans to open training camps on December 1.

The team had been hoping to reach a solution that would let it return to Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Team officials were working with the NBA on health concerns and were optimistic that they had a proposal that would meet with government approval.

Atlantic Notes: Ujiri, Raptors, Lewis Jr., Sixers

The Raptors have provided proposals for how they – and visiting teams – could safely play in Toronto this season, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri wrote in an article for The Toronto Star.

The organization has explored temporary homes in the United States due to the border being closed to non-essential travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Raptors’ strong preference is to play its games in Toronto if permitted.

“We’ve provided detailed proposals to governments about how we, and the teams that visit us, could play safely in Toronto,” Ujiri wrote. “Our plan builds on things we learned in the bubble, such as daily testing, limiting contact, and safe travel. It’s constructed to keep our players, staff, their families and Canadians healthy, because that has to be the starting point and the end point.”

The Raptors are considering a number of options in America, with a recent report indicating that Tampa Bay, Florida would be a frontrunner to host the team this season.

“We have to look at other options, because the preseason is coming up fast — Dec. 1,” Ujiri explained. “We are proud to represent our city and our country, and we hope to be able to do that while playing in Toronto. Cities in the United States have been very kind to us — they’ve offered us a home away from home. To them I say: Thank you. To you, I say that I hope we get to tell them we won’t be able to take them up on their generous offer.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Despite Ujiri and the Raptors presenting a good plan to host games in Toronto this season, concerns remain over cross-border travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, Canada’s deputy chief of public health Dr. Howard Njoo said, as relayed by ESPN. The team remains without a finalized home despite training camps beginning in roughly two weeks.
  • The speed of Alabama point guard Kira Lewis Jr. has attracted the interest of the Knicks, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. Lewis, who’s largely considered to be the fastest player in the draft, worked out for the team last month. “Getting to the rim, finishing over length and showing my shot as well,” Lewis said of what he tried to show the team. “I try to bring every aspect I can whether it’s ball handing, passing, shooting, defense, rebounding,. Anything I can do to help the team. I’m trying to get better [in] being more physical with my size and handling bigger defenders, cutting to the basket and making great reads.”
  • Daryl Morey‘s rebuilding of the Sixers could ultimately start with the draft, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. The Sixers own the No. 21, No. 34, No. 36, No. 49 and No. 58 picks in the draft, which is set to commence on Wednesday.

NBA Agents Talk Offseason, Finances, Execs, More

NBA agents are generally in agreement that the 2020 offseason will be an unusual one due to the coronavirus pandemic and its ripple effect, but they don’t all agree on what exactly the offseason will look like.

Ben Standig, Mike Vorkunov, and other writers from The Athletic conducted a survey of 20 player agents to get their thoughts on the coming offseason and state of the NBA. And while some of those agents believe financial concerns will limit player movement this fall, others believe there will still be plenty of movement — even if it doesn’t happen in free agency.

“My fear is there will be a lot of teams and ownership groups that sit out free agency,” one agent said. “… In terms of player movement, I think there will be a lot. Not just signing guys. Nobody wants to pay the tax. Everybody is going to try to clear space for 2021. I can definitely see a sizeable amount of player movement. But not a lot of dollars spent.”

One agent who spoke to The Athletic suggested that some teams will be in cost-cutting mode and, for financial reasons, may move players they wouldn’t have traded in a normal year. However, another agent believes there will still be plenty of clubs willing to spend to compete for the postseason and for a title.

“Teams want to win and they’re going to spend to win,” the agent said. “Ultimately, as we saw with Denver, there’s a lot of teams within striking distance of contention and they’re not going to be cheap. The Clippers fired a coach with two years on his deal. We’re going to be fine.”

As for how many NBA franchises will be in legitimate financial peril during the coming year, one agent is skeptical that any will actually be in trouble.

“They’re going to blow so much smoke up our a– about how bad the business model is and everything like that, but Minnesota is going to sell for $1.5 billion and it’s the worst market, as far as basketball,” the agent said. “They sold 18 years ago for $88MM and they’re going to sell for $1.5 billion? You can’t tell (me) you have a bad business.

“There’s going be revenues that are greatly reduced, but I would say to any of these teams that feel like these businesses that they can’t pour cash into to carry it through this rough spot, they should sell. Because they have opportunities. We’ll find them a buyer in a month.”

Here are a few of the other most interesting takeaways from The Athletic’s agent survey:

  • Thunder point guard Chris Paul is the highest-profile player that most agents expected to be traded this offseason, while the Sixers are considered the team most in need of a major roster move. “Philly is at the point where it’s a make or break year for just about everybody,” one agent said.
  • Of the 19 agents who weighed in on the subject, 18 said they expect Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to remain in Milwaukee beyond his current contract.
  • LaMelo Ball comfortably received the most votes as 2020’s most intriguing draft prospect, but he’s viewed as a somewhat risky investment. “I think he has such a high ceiling but the difference from his top to bottom is the biggest of anyone in the draft,” one agent said. Another offered the following assessment: “That could go really good or really bad.”
  • One agent said he has “never heard less enthusiasm” from teams that have high picks in this year’s draft.
  • One agent speculated that centers will be hit hardest by teams’ financial limitations this offseason, since clubs are focusing on players who can defend several positions. Another said that he thinks many clubs may prioritize veterans over young prospects, since cost-conscious teams may not want to use back-of-the-roster spots on guys who won’t play at all.
  • Thunder GM Sam Presti easily received the most votes as the NBA’s “smartest” team executive, but Pat Riley of the Heat and Masai Ujiri of the Raptors got more votes when agents were asked which exec they’d want to hire if they were running a franchise.

Tanenbaum Promises To Extend Ujiri’s Contract

Raptors president Masai Ujiri would get plenty of offers around the league if he became available. The chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Larry Tanenbaum, vows to not let that happen, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reports.

Tanenbaum said he’ll eventually reach an extension with Ujiri, who has a year remaining on his contract.

The Raptors extended coach Nick Nurse’s contract after Toronto was eliminated from the postseason. They’re also close to an extension agreement with GM Bobby Webster, who is also under contract through next season.

“We have time and we’re going to work through the process in the right time and the right way, I know that for sure,” Tanenbaum said.

Once a deal is reached with Webster, Tanenbaum will turn his attention toward locking up Ujiri to a multi-year extension.

“Masai is getting (extensions) done (with Nurse and Webster) and we, too, will get it done,” Tanenbaum said.

Ujiri and Webster have important roster decisions to make this offseason with Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka headed to unrestricted free agency and OG Anunoby eligible for a rookie scale extension.

Raptors Notes: Ujiri, Webster, VanVleet, Ibaka, Gasol

The “strong rumble” in the Walt Disney World bubble was that the Raptors were nearing new long-term extensions for president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, general manager Bobby Webster, and head coach Nick Nurse, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link).

Toronto announced a multiyear extension for Nurse earlier this week, but Ujiri told reporters today that he hasn’t engaged in contract discussions with Raptors ownership yet. As Tim Bontemps of ESPN relays (via Twitter), Ujiri said he wanted to prioritize new deals for his leadership team, including Nurse and Webster. He said an extension for Webster is “close,” per Blake Murphy of The Athletic (Twitter link).

As for his own contract, Ujiri offered the following assessment, according to Josh Lewenberg of (Twitter link): I think it will come. When it comes we’ll deal with it face on. But as for now I’m focused on other things. When that time comes I will deal with it.”

Ujiri and Webster have one year remaining on their current contracts.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Re-signing unrestricted free agent Fred VanVleet will be a “big-time priority” for the Raptors this offseason, Ujiri said today (Twitter link via Murphy). He added that the club has a good sense of where its free agents still have room to grow or develop.
  • Ujiri also called free agent big men Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol priorities for the Raptors, though he acknowledged the challenges inherent in balancing the club’s short-term interests and long-term flexibility (Twitter link via Lewenberg). Toronto is expected to try to maximize its cap flexibility for the summer of 2021 as best it can.
  • Eric Koreen of The Athletic ranks the players on the Raptors’ roster by trade value, starting with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
  • In case you missed it, we explained on Wednesday how Siakam’s All-NBA Second Team berth will affect the forward’s earnings going forward. Because Siakam’s extension will begin at 28% of the 2020/21 cap instead of 25%, the Raptors now project to have about $3.5MM less cap space during the summer of 2021, assuming the cap for ’20/21 stays the same as in ’19/20.

Eastern Notes: Bertans, Vaughn, Nurse, Antetokounmpo

Wizards forward Davis Bertans‘ decision to pass on the restart was driven by free agency, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington relays. Bertans made his comments on the ‘Basketball Network’ show on YouTube.

“I think there were multiple reasons,” the Wizards’ sharpshooter said. “Of course, one of the main ones I guess is that I was an upcoming free agent and we were put in a position as very unlikely to make the playoffs. To risk an injury after not playing basketball and not really working out for almost two months [was not smart]. That was the main reason.”

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • The Nets are hopeful that Jacques Vaughn will remain on Steve Nash’s staff even though they passed on making him the permanent head coach, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Vaughn has been identified is a candidate for the Pacers coaching job. The Rockets are also reportedly interested, though the Nets would have to grant those teams permission to interview him.
  • Handing coach Nick Nurse an extension was an important first step during a tricky offseason for the Raptors, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Canada opines. The Raptors need to position themselves for the summer of 2021, when they could chase top free agents. The next step this offseason would be to reach extension agreements with team president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster, Lewenberg adds. Details of Nurse’s multiyear extension can be found here.
  • The safest bet regarding Giannis Antetokounmpo is that he stays put with the Bucks, either through a Designated Veteran Extension this offseason or re-signing on a shorter deal next year, according to Danny Leroux of The Athletic. Leroux looks at all the options and possibilities regarding Antetokounmpo’s future in the wake of the Bucks’ surprisingly early playoff exit.
  • The Raptors will have approximately $45MM to spend on their own free agents or using the mid-level exception before going into the luxury tax, according to Blake Murphy of The Athletic. Murphy takes a closer look at the Raptors’ balance sheet and impending decisions, including Fred VanVleet‘s free agency.