Masai Ujiri

Raptors Notes: Poeltl, Offseason, Trade Deadline, Ujiri

Newly reacquired Raptors center Jakob Poeltl, an unrestricted free agent this summer, can envision himself signing a new contract with the team, per Josh Lewenberg of (Twitter link).

“It’s definitely something I can see for the long-term as well,” Poeltl said of the Raptors.

Poeltl was initially selected by Toronto with the ninth pick in the 2017 draft, but was dealt to the Spurs in 2018 as part of its package to acquire All-NBA small forward Kawhi Leonard.

He had since emerged as a terrific rim-protecting center for San Antonio and is expected to earn a significant salary upgrade this summer. In 47 games this season with the Spurs and Raptors, Poeltl is averaging 12.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 BPG and 0.8 SPG.

Having the 7’1″ big man on the roster broadens Toronto’s lineup options, contends Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Poeltl suited up for 17 minutes in his first game back with the Raptors, a 122-116 Friday loss to the Jazz. Smith writes that head coach Nick Nurse anticipates eventually shifting Poeltl into a starting role for the team.

“Hopefully he’s going to rim-protect, either with some shot-blocking or some vertical-type moves,” Nurse said. “Hopefully he’ll defensive rebound for us, too. We work pretty hard at defensive rebounding. There are guys that need to get involved in that. Hopefully he can take some of that load off our guys… He’s got a good IQ. That’s important, when a guy back there has some IQ and can direct traffic a bit.” 

There’s more out of Toronto:

  • Raptors guards Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. are both expected to turn down their respective player options for 2023/24, and instead enter 2023 free agency, writes Blake Murphy of Murphy looks ahead to how Toronto’s approach to the trade deadline could impact its approach to the 2023 offseason. Instead of becoming sellers at the deadline, as widely expected for the 26-31 Raptors, the team added Poeltl. Murphy thinks the Raptors can still look to offload contracts this summer, though he is dubious the team will get as much for its players during the offseason as it may have been able to extract at the deadline.
  • Lewenberg opines in a separate piece that the Raptors were never likely to be sellers at the trade deadline, noting that Toronto was possibly open to accepting a trade for 25-year-old swingman OG Anunoby, but had been reticent to move off the contract of All-Star big man Pascal Siakam.
  • Raptors president Masai Ujiri may have erred in wanting to let his current core of Siakam, Anunoby, VanVleet and 2022 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes play out the rest of the season, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. Koreen posits that the addition of Poeltl, while offering a defensive improvement around the rack, will not upgrade the club enough to return it to true contention this season.

Atlantic Notes: Hart, Thybulle, Raptors, Muscala

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is excited for the new addition of veteran swingman Josh Hart, according to Zach Braziller of The New York Post.

“I have great respect for him,” Thibodeau said. “He’s been a top-flight competitor in the league for a long time, and he brings a lot of intangibles to the game… A lot of respect for him.”

Thibodeau would not offer insight into whether he would start Hart or make his rotation deeper now. In his 51 games for Portland this season, Hart is averaging 9.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.9 APG, and 1.1 SPG.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers got close to sending defensive stopper Matisse Thybulle to the Mavericks this year, but Dallas was uninterested in including a first-round draft pick in the offing, reports Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The two-time All-Defensive Teamer was instead shipped out to the Trail Blazers as part of a four-team trade today.
  • Raptors team president Masai Ujiri explained why, beyond bolstering their frontcourt depth with their deal for center Jakob Poeltl, the team opted to not make any other major moves at the trade deadline, despite attracting significant interest around the league, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. “The way I look at the deadline (is) it’s really not a great place to make long-term decisions,” Ujiri said. “To be fair (to) this team, I think I haven’t done my part for this team to maybe play a little bit better… I think we needed a big like Jak (to) protect the rim, who these guys have confidence in — a really good passer, a big body, one of our own, which I think really fits.”
  • The Celtics opted to augment their bench depth with sharpshooting forward Mike Muscala at the trade deadline. Jared Weiss of The Athletic unpacks how Muscala will help Boston in some major areas of need for the 2022/23 season’s home stretch.

Raptors Notes: Trade Deadline, Siakam, Ujiri, Tanking

The Raptors have received phone calls about their core players, multiple sources tell Josh Lewenberg of TSN. And while the front office has been listening to all the trade offers, no deals are close right now.

Rival teams are paying close attention to Toronto, which had lost six straight games before winning in New York tonight. Lewenberg considers everyone except Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes to be available, although it would take a significant offer to land some of the other players. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are both All-Stars who are still in their prime, Lewenberg points out, while OG Anunoby is even younger and has become an accomplished two-way player.

Even if the Raptors decide to become sellers, Lewenberg doesn’t expect them to bottom out completely. He notes that the organization has worked hard to build a winning culture and isn’t likely to jeopardize that for a small chance to get one of the top picks in the lottery.

There’s more on the Raptors:

  • Siakam, who scored 52 points tonight against the Knicks, may be the only thing preventing Toronto from being a definite lottery team, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. Koreen considers a Siakam deal to be a sign that the Raptors are “blowing it up,” while a trade of VanVleet or Anunoby wouldn’t be on that level. Siakam understands that the best way to quiet the trade talk is to start winning. “At the end of the day, I don’t care about the schemes or this or that,” he said after Monday’s game. “We’ve just got to win. That’s the only thing. I don’t know the difference compared to (past) groups. I just know this group right now, we’re struggling. It’s really bad. We have to get out of it.”
  • Team president Masai Ujiri has built a reputation for patience since he took over the Raptors, but that might be tested heading into this season’s trade deadline, suggests Michael Grange of Grange points out that Ujiri had a two-year plan — last season and this one — to evaluate the players and decide who to build around.
  • Tanking should be on the table, argues Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star, because the Raptors don’t have enough talent on their roster to rise above the middle in the East. The primary need, according to Feschuk, is to find someone who can penetrate into the paint and either score or create an open shot for a teammate.

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, 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, 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 (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 “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 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 “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
  • In case you missed it, our Offseason in Review story on the Raptors was published earlier today.