Love him or hate him these days, Bill Simmons is still one of the better big time NBA podcast hosts out there. He gets the big name guests, and he gets them to be at least modestly candid. At least that’s the idea in principle.
Today, however, Simmons may have met his greatest challenge: Raptors team president, and man of mystery, Masai Ujiri (who is totally loved, by the way).
The two men talked for over an hour about many subjects — Ujiri’s personal basketball history, how he ended up in the NBA, international player development, his work in (and for) Africa, and more. Give it a listen here.
Oh yeah, did Masai talk about the Raptors? You better believe it. Here are the Toronto-related highlights (plus some other fun notes):
- Masai talked about Jonas Valanciunas figuring it out. He mentioned JV was slimming down (which is funny because it was the Raptors who got him bulked up to begin with), and learning to ball handle more vs. just catching the ball in the post.
- Big surprise: DeMar DeRozan trained with Hakeem Olajuwon to learn more about footwork. Masai’s description of Hakeem’s training gym — a awesome journey akin to visiting a mystical oracle, apparently — is worth a listen alone.
- Masai notes that the cap made it difficult to maintain “one of the strongest benches in the NBA.” But now, as we know, Ujiri wanted (and had) to give the Raptors younger players a chance to fill out the roster.
- And trades? Masai: “It’s really hard to make trades.” Still, Ujiri outlined his trade process. Everyone is in the room, they have a board with all their in-process deals (or deal ideas) on display, and then they talk through it and about it. The chuckle as Masai confirmed that the P.J. Tucker trade happened five minutes before the deadline is delightful.
- Masai’s view on trying to beat LeBron James: If you don’t want to try and do it, go somewhere else. “Go play the piano or something.”
- Masai thinks the 4-point shot is “interesting”!!!
- This is astounding: Ujiri was gearing up to leave the NBA and get involved in the league’s offices in Africa and basketball development there. He was apparently really fired up about the idea, but others — including commissioner Adam Silver — talked him out of the idea.
- Breaking news: Masai thinks Toronto is a great city, and believes Raptors fans are fantastic. As he’s said before, Ujiri believes one day a superstar athlete will figure out how they can use Toronto as a global launching pad for everything his or her heart desires.
- Management words of wisdom from Masai: passion before ambition, and, more pointedly, hire women.
- Finally, Bruno Caboclo. It was actually early in the discussion but Simmons asked Masai about Bruno and it was interesting to hear his answer. Ujiri all but admitted he maybe could have left Caboclo elsewhere to develop (though didn’t say he could have left him for the second round in the draft). At the time, Ujiri was concerned about all of the ancillary elements (e.g. muscle work, conditioning) that the international leagues maybe don’t worry about as much. Of course, Ujiri also acknowledged that without a D-League team it was tough for Toronto to find minutes for Bruno, but the franchise liked his passion for the game and decided to take the risk anyway. And now, here we are.