Masai Ujiri spoke to the media today for the first time since the Toronto Raptors season ended, and only hours after the news of Nick Nurse’s firing came out. He spoke for over 45 minutes, answering questions from the media about the coaching situation and the season as a whole.
He started the conference by expressing his gratitude to Nick Nurse for his contributions to the team, wishing him and his family all the best. He said it was a difficult decision to make and they had multiple conversations with Nurse over the past week that ultimately led to the decision to part ways.
Then he went on to talk about the season as a whole, how disappointing it was, and how he felt there was a lack of “a spirit of togetherness and team culture.” He made a point not to point fingers just at Nurse, took some of the blame for himself, and said that overall the year didn’t “feel like us.”
Here are some of the main points Masai made:
He mentioned that the search for a new head coach will start today and that they had not had many discussions about it beforehand. They would like someone who brings the spirit of the organization, and said they will focus heavily on what candidates will bring to the team in terms of playing style and what their plans look like.
"I think we follow the culture of an incredible city and people....We lost some of that, but it's nothing we can not build right back up again."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 21, 2023
Says losing pronounces that loss more. Says there's a need for friction/shock to turn it back in right direction.
Ujiri also said he thinks it would be helpful to have someone in place before the NBA Draft.
Development of Younger Players
Masai spent a while talking about the development of the team, especially the younger players. He mentioned they were not especially happy with development as a team this year, but that individual players made strides.
He emphasized Scottie Barnes progress especially, reminding the media that Scottie is only 21 years old and still “a baby.” He also mentioned the learning curve that came with him coming up during the COVID era and how it’s a lot of change for him to process. He was overall happy with Scottie’s development this season and knows he will continue to make strides.
He also mentioned players like Dalano Banton, Malachi Flynn and Jeff Dowtin Jr as young guys who have an immense amount of talent and hopes they will continue to improve.
Masai isn’t one to play all of his cards at once, so it wasn’t surprising that he didn’t say much about the organization’s plans in free agency. He emphasized the need to bring on players who fit with the team’s culture and spirit, and that he was happy with the individual performances of players this season.
He mentioned Pascal Siakam’s All-NBA (hopefully) season, how Fred VanVleet battled back from injury later in the season, O.G. Anunoby’s immense improvement and skill, and how Jakob Poeltl solved a lot of problems for them post-deadline.
"Free agency doesn't really happen anymore," Ujiri says.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 21, 2023
He's talking player empowerment/trades, but it's also a bit of a philosophical note from him, as Raptors have only once in 10 years chosen the cap-space route under his tenure.
"We'll always be an attractive market."
He said they would have the necessary conversations and understands that NBA free agency is vastly different now than in recent years. He understands the players will make the decisions that fit best for them, but he does believe in the players they currently have and wants to explore their options.
Masai wants to win. He is confident Toronto will win again. He also specifically mentioned his desire to stay in Toronto “until you guys kicks me out.” Overall the message was hopeful, optimistic, and he seemed ready to inject some energy back into this organization.
We now head into the offseason, a head coaching hunt, busy free agency and a draft. Who said the offseason was boring?