Masai Ujiri held his annual end-of-season press conference today, and it was like every other Masai Ujiri end-of-season press conference... except, you know, it was via Zoom meeting, and it’s freaking September. What a time to be alive.
The 50-minute conference call covered a wide range of topics, from the Raptors who are entering free agency, to his own contract, to social justice and racism. As always, Ujiri is a delight to listen to, his words direct (when he’s able to be) and often inspiring. The team has yet to post the full video, but Sportsnet has an edited version here and we’ll hit a few highlights below.
Update: The Raptors have posted the full version here.
Will Masai Ujiri Sign a Contract Extension in Toronto?
We’ll start with the question that’s on everybody’s mind: Is Ujiri, whose contract is up following next season, going to sign an extension here in Toronto?
As you might expect, Ujiri would neither confirm nor deny anything, except to say that discussions will take place at the appropriate time.
"We will address it when it's time to address it. It's not something I'm going do in the media publicly."— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 17, 2020
Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he hasn't had discussions about a contract extension. pic.twitter.com/OpuYqkzPZO
Now, we wouldn’t blame you for saying “but that time is now...!” And you could be slightly alarmed by Ujiri’s “we haven’t had discussions yet” comment, since after all, if not now, when?
But throughout the press conference, Ujiri repeated several times that his current focus was on securing contracts for the rest of the Raptors’ leadership team, which meant getting Nick Nurse’s contract extension done, and getting Bobby Webster signed as well — which Masai indicated was being worked on now.
"We're close."— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 17, 2020
Raptors president Masai Ujiri on a contract extension for GM Bobby Webster: pic.twitter.com/JNabS4VrJ9
We certainly want to hear the news that Ujiri is sticking around. But the sign of a good leader is making sure all the people around him are taken care of first.
How Will the Raptors Prioritize Their Offseason?
Ujiri noted that the Raptors have several important free agents this offseason, while also stressing the importance of the 2021 offseason several times — which of course, is when Giannis Antetokounmpo can become a free agent, as can several other top-level NBA players. He also spoke about the way the game is changing, and how the team must evaluate whether the basketball being played in the Bubble represents how basketball will be played going forward.
But first, he said that the Raptors need to see where the league’s salary cap and revenue numbers end up. Once those numbers are known, then the Raptors can start planning specific roster moves, including the future of Fred VanVleet, whom Ujiri called “a big-time priority.” He also noted that the team’s entire big-man rotation (Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Chris Boucher) are all entering free agency, and that makes the centre spot a priority as well.
Masai Ujiri has full confidence in Pascal Siakam
Naturally, Ujiri was asked about Pascal Siakam’s struggles in the Bubble, and he, like everyone else associated with the team, stuck by his man.
“We tried to understand what he went through… Everybody stood by Pascal.”— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 17, 2020
Raptors president Masai Ujiri spoke about Pascal Siakam’s struggles in the post-season, and says the NBA Bubble brought the team together: pic.twitter.com/teBM7enGx9
Ujiri said that although Siakam himself felt he let the team down, he reminded Pascal and everybody that Siakam helped this team win a title last year, and he said that everybody from Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry to Bobby Webster has spoken to Pascal and given him their support. He said Siakam “is gonna bounce back from this, 100%.”
Ujiri on the Oracle Arena Incident
In perhaps the most revealing and personal moments of the press conference, Ujiri spoke about the body cam video of the Alameda Country sheriff’s deputy that become public several weeks back, showing that Ujiri was not the aggressor in the conflict that happened immediately following the Raptors victory in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
“This was very hard for me.”— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 17, 2020
Raptors president Masai Ujiri spoke about how he felt after the body cam video was released showing the incident with security at Oracle Arena during last year’s NBA Finals: pic.twitter.com/xqQAauzBMs
Ujiri said that at times, especially alone in the Bubble, he began to doubt in his own mind what he knew really happened. He said that if he, in his position, has those doubts, then he can only imagine what others, without his position or wealth or a giant corporation behind him, must go through when they are the victims of police violence.
Black Lives Matter, and Must Continue to Matter
Ujiri also spoke at length about the social justice messages the NBA has tried to impart while it plays out its season in Orlando. He thinks that the league and the NBPA has gone a great job so far getting their messages out, but that there is still work to be done.
"There's racism everywhere... We're going to do whatever we can to continue this conversation."— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 17, 2020
Masai Ujiri spoke about how the @Raptors will continue their work in the fight against racial injustice now that they're back in Canada. pic.twitter.com/mBNcVTzVaa
“Nobody was feeling right.”— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 17, 2020
Raptors president Masai Ujiri spoke about the historic moment when the Bucks boycotted their game to protest racial injustice and the conversations that were happening in the Raptors' locker room: pic.twitter.com/5TAdcLYTdo
Following a moment that could have dragged this press conference down, when a, shall we say, uninspired question about gun violence in Toronto was asked, Ujiri — after Kayla Grey, bless her, redirected the line of questioning — held strong and delivered what might have been his most important statement of the entire briefing: “We know what the two pandemics are now: We have COVID, and we have racism.”
When I asked Masai Ujiri about how frustrating it can be to do all this work to help fight against anti-black racism and police brutality and be met with a "..but.."— Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) September 17, 2020
He said, “We know what the two pandemics are now: We have Covid, and we have racism." https://t.co/TRT3DCBjk1
When we call the man’s words inspiring, this is exactly what we’re talking about.
“10 More Years!”
Before he wrapped for the day, Ujiri echoed the sentiments of just about every Raptors fan by praising Kyle Lowry.
After calling Lowry “a stud” and saying he’s “unbelievable,” Ujiri said, “I want 10 more incredible years from this guy.” (Why stop at 10, we say?) He also went on to say the team will “get something done” regarding a statue whenever it is that Lowry hangs up his sneakers.
Ujiri signed off by saying “he’ll go to battle with these guys any day,” and we couldn’t agree more.