Less than two hours after I published the first Masai Ujiri Concern-o-Meter, in which my concern about Masai Ujiri leaving Toronto for New York had actually decreased as the day went on, Marc Stein went ahead and sent me, and all of Raptors Twitter, into legit panic:
Let’s get into the Knicks’ pursuit of Toronto’s Masai Ujiri ... inside the latest edition of the @nytimes weekly NBA newsletter ... freshly dispatched to inboxes worldwide ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/5tkN9FGND3— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 5, 2020
Here’s the relevant part courtesy William Lou:
Yes, Will, it certainly is.
Then came this (of course):
In response to my latest newsletter about a perception in some corners "that the league office (specifically Commissioner Adam Silver) is pushing Masai Ujiri as the ideal candidate to try to rescue the Knicks," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the following: "It's 100 percent false"— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 5, 2020
So, the full-on roller coaster, all played out in a matter of hours while I was trying to relax and watch some TV with my wife. I considered writing this column last night, but thought, well, I don’t want to publish this and have it sitting there overnight, should something actually happen overnight!
Thus, I went to bed, fearful of waking up to a Woj bomb, but, not feeling that concerned, in part because we had yet to hear from Michael Grange or Bruce Arthur, the two most connected Ujiri Watchers (tm).
I woke up to no Woj Bomb (well, other than that insane four-team trade)... but Grange did speak up:
So far, Masai Ujiri has remained silent, and his presence around the @Raptors is much more limited than in past years.— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 5, 2020
It could be he’s doing what confident executives do. Or it could be he’s beginning a transition of sorts. (via @michaelgrange)https://t.co/wrsM022EZ6
Grange’s report can be summed up with these words, that appear halfway through the story:
The Raptors haven’t offered Ujiri an extension, he’s determined to become a free agent and he may have an out on his deal this coming summer.
(To be perfectly clear: Grange didn’t mean literally, like, this second, today, Masai is gone. He just meant: It’s going to happen, at some point. Possibly now! Possibly summer! Possibly the Knicks, or something else! But, at some point. And we should probably prepare, mentally, for that reality.)
How Concerned Should we be about Masai Ujiri Leaving?
Honestly, right now? Pretty concerned! At 8:30-ish a.m. while I write this, the Concern-o-Meter stands at a 6.5 out of 10 (where 1 is the least concerned, and 10 is highly concerned).
There legitimately seems to be reason for concern here!
Current Concern-o-Meter Rating: 6.5
Folks, it’s high. Not the highest it can go, but the highest it’s ever been! Here’s why:
- Stein is well connected, of course. He works for the NYT, so he’s not reporting something without legit sources.
- The league angle. While it would cause a riot in Raptors twitter, the league has stepped in with poorly run teams before, most recently when Bryan Colangelo went to Philadelphia.
- Ujiri-Watcher Grange reporting on a potential out this summer. If Masai can leave this summer, surely MLSE isn’t going to just force him to stay until then.
- All of the talk that Bobby Webster might go too!? One of the reasons my concern was low before was because I was confident the Raptors would be fine with Webster there to take over for Masai!
The only reason it’s not higher, honestly — other than the usual it’s the Knicks caveat — is because now that the bit about Adam Silver and the league actively pushing Ujiri to “save” the Knicks is out there, I think it would be a huge black mark on the league were Ujiri to go there. There is, obviously, a perception already that the league favours its big market New York and LA teams. If the league engineers the movement of its top exec from a small market team (I know Toronto is not “small” per se, but in terms of advertising dollars to the NBA — the only metric that matters — Toronto is a small market) to a big market team, then, the league’s reputation is ruined. It’s over, it’s done.
Maybe they don’t care, because all they want is the New York and LA money. But if that happens you can throw away any arguments about the NBA treating small market teams equally, and parity, and not caring where the title goes or the stars go because it’s over. The NBA will have loudly announced that it is a two-city league and that’s it.
I don’t know if the league is ready to go there right now. They may actually dissuade this move from happening to protect their rep. And as Grange points out in his piece, Larry Tannenbaum is chairman of the board of governors. Do we think the 20+ “small market” teams — all of whom are technically, collectively Adam Silver’s boss — will be happy about this?
I don’t think so.
At least that a what I’m telling myself this morning.