Last year, when Masai Ujiri sat at the same table and gave the same interview, he did so with a clear message to his players: we’re not doing this again—at least not in the same way. There were a lot of tells in that May 9th, 2017 interview that turned out to be true. Ujiri joked he wouldn’t say whether or not Kyle Lowry would be resigned, Patrick Patterson would be let go, if Serge Ibaka would be brought back or whether he would begin to transform the then current roster into a youthful, stable rotation.
At the time, the series of scenarios he named one after another seemed like random ideas that Ujiri was wrestling with. But looking back, he may have blurted out his entire summer plan step by step, under the guise of brevity.
With that in mind, it was really tough to gauge where Ujiri’s mind was this afternoon. He was just as emotionally engaged as last season, but the biggest difference was that Ujiri aimed his fiery answers at no one person in particular, but those outside the franchise commenting on the future of his team, instead of his own players like last May.
Summing up the gist of his full presser, Ujiri says with conviction, “forget the noise, forget what everbody says. It’s incredible where we’ve come in the last five years.”
Up first on the day, though, was Coach Dwane Casey, who has spent the past 48 hours watching his name brought up in reports and speculative headlines as possibly the next NBA head coach to be axed this off-season.
But, in between those reports, Casey saw something positive: On Wednesday, Coach Casey was named the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year—an annual award which tallies the votes of all 30 head coaches in the NBA.
Casey, for one, understands the here and now and the disappointment surrounding the season’s premature ending, but he also knows how much this team has grown in his seven year tenure—and how much he, at its core, had to do with the turnaround.
“We’ve had improvements over the last six or seven years. I can understand our players being upset by getting knocked out because we had bigger plans, but they have nothing to hang their heads about. Maybe for individual players it’s a wasted season [referencing Kyle Lowry’s comments], but for our team and our program, it’s not a wasted year.”
This is set to be an eventful off-season, and given the turbulence—whether manufactured or real—surrounding the team currently, fans will rarely be short on excitement heading into next season.