NBA Saturday: Raptors Are in Good Hands
VIDEO OF THE DAY – Masai Ujiri
HOOPSWORLD catches up with Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.Watch More Video Here
As Masai Ujiri walks around the gym at the 2013 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, he is stopped left and right. Executives, coaches and players grab him to chat and congratulate him on his new job as general manager of the Toronto Raptors.
It wasn’t long ago that Ujiri could walk around unnoticed in a setting like this, back when he was an unpaid scout for the Orlando Magic or the director of global scouting for the Raptors. However, after rebuilding the Denver Nuggets in the aftermath of Carmelo Anthony’s trade request, Ujiri was named the 2013 Executive of the Year and became one of the most coveted decision-makers in the league.
Now, the 43-year-old is taking over a Raptors team that seems talented enough to sneak into the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, but that is in desperate need of a long-term plan. Ujiri is ready to take on the challenge and put his fingerprints all over the franchise.
“I always say this and I know it’s cliché or whatever, but it was tough to leave Denver and easy to go back to Toronto,” Ujiri said. “The Kroenke’s were great to me in Denver and I really appreciated them giving me a shot, but Toronto has been unbelievable. Bryan Colangelo really helped me and prepared me for this job. Tim Leiweke has given me a chance and it’s such a blessing. Being received in Toronto by such great fans and great people has been fun. The job is always going to be fun. If a job is open, it means there are little things wrong here and there. You’re not going to get a job that’s cushy and easy. That’s a challenge, but we’re up for it and excited about it.”
Ujiri can’t wait to get to work in Toronto, and everyone in the organization is thrilled to have him on board as well.
“It’s great,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “Here’s a guy who knows players and knows people and, at the end of the day, we’re in a people business. Most of all, he’s a great evaluator of talent and a great communicator. He has a great relationship with the players. I’m excited to work with a guy like that. He knows our team, knows the organization from working here and it’s a huge plus to have Masai on board and I can’t wait to work with him.”
“He has a worker’s mentality, which is good for this program because we’re trying to get this up-and-coming franchise going,” Raptors guard Terrence Ross said. “All it takes is hard work to improve. We all saw what he did with Denver. With him, Denver became a top team in the West. We need to take that same mentality and everything and apply it to what we’re doing here to do the same.”
“He was there my rookie year so I knew Masai since then and he’s definitely a great guy, a honest guy,” Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s great to have him back. He’s going to be up front with you, tell you what he needs from you as a team and individual. It’s going to be great.”
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team in Toronto to the point that, when asked if the Raptors can become a playoff team in the 2013-14 season, Ujiri and Casey seem unsure if they’ll begin the season with the roster as currently assembled.
“We have to work hard,” Ujiri said. “We don’t know what direction this team is going to go and how it’s going to fare, but if we’re looking to maybe give it a shot and keep the guys and play with them next season, we have to be tough. It’s a tough conference. People say it’s easier than the West, but it’s gotten better as the teams have gotten better. We have to play hard out there and see where we go.”
“Our number one thing is to get better,” Casey said. “Putting the playoff tag on it, we don’t know yet. We’re not a finished product yet. I do know one thing: we will get better, continue to improve and take steps. Whether that equates to playoffs, I don’t know. But each player, whether it’s DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas or Rudy Gay, all of those guys have steps that they can take individually. That has to be our goal first before we can think about the playoffs, that those guys maximize their talent and potential.”
Ujiri and Casey recently met with most of the team in Las Vegas. Valanciunas, Ross and Quincy Acy are participating in the NBA Summer League, while veterans such as DeRozan, Gay, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson were in attendance to support their young teammates.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ujiri said. “We had 11 guys up here and we had a big dinner a couple of days ago with all of the guys. It was unbelievable. Amir has been here, DeMar, Rudy, Kyle and all of those guys. DeMar has been great. He lives here and he has been so supportive of the team. We can’t ask for anything more. He’s growing and becoming more mature. He has a little baby now. We’re proud of him and he’s doing a great job.”
The Raptors have been impressed with the performances of Valanciunas, Ross and Acy in Las Vegas.
“Jonas, Terrence and Quincy are doing a good job really executing the concepts that we’re trying to have with the Raptors,” Casey said. “Jonas has done an excellent job taking his time and taking what the defense gives him. His confidence has gone to another level. Terrence is doing a much better job of playing every possession, not taking possessions off and fighting through fatigue. That’s the thing most young players have to get through in their NBA experience. Quincy is playing hard and doing the dirty work. He’s doing what he does and that usually translates from summer league to the regular season.”
“Our players are competing,” Ujiri said. “Jonas has played well, Terrence has played well in spurts and a couple of other guys have done well. Quincy has played with a lot of energy. We’re happy. These guys have worked hard and we’ve put a new coaching staff together, so it’s coming together a little bit.”
The Raptors are in good hands with Ujiri, who assembled the Nuggets team that won a franchise-best 57 wins last season. Toronto is currently in the midst of a five-year playoff drought, but that could end in the very near future if Ujiri is able to work his magic in Canada and duplicate his recent success.
Douglas-Roberts ‘Willing to Die’ for NBA Opportunity
Last year, Chris Douglas-Roberts returned from a one-year stint in Italy and tried to return to the NBA by joining the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp roster. Douglas-Roberts played well in spurts, but was ultimately one of the Lakers’ final cuts.
Now, the 26-year-old is back with the Lakers, playing with their NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas. He’ll likely attend training camp with L.A. and have another shot at making their regular season roster.
“I think they’re interested,” Douglas-Roberts said of the Lakers. “They were interested last year, but things happen. It was a numbers game, which I fully understand. But I definitely think this is good a fit and it’s why I’m back this summer.
“I’ve gotten great feedback. We had a great week of work and practice. We were doing two-a-days for four days straight. I feel like I practiced well, making guys better and getting guys involved. So far, I haven’t gotten anything but positive feedback.”
Douglas-Roberts hasn’t been able to stick in the league, playing for three teams in four years. However, he has shown that he’s talented enough to be a significant contributor in the NBA and that he’s too talented for the D-League, averaging 27.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.0 steals with the Texas Legends last season. Douglas-Roberts’ problem has been his professionalism.
However, he has matured a lot in recent years and has tried to share his lessons with his young teammates on the Lakers’ summer league roster.
“I’m not a real loud guy, but I’ve pulled guys to the side and made sure that they are making the same mistakes that I made and that they continue to be humble,” Douglas-Roberts said. “The biggest thing that I tell guys is that this league is about rejection and disappointment, and the way you handle that is what’s going to take you far. Early in my career, I handled disappointment in a bad way. I handled rejection in a bad way. And I paid for that, it was a lesson for me. Everybody is talented here and everybody can play. You just have to stay focused and keep tunnel vision.”
Even though Douglas-Roberts’ NBA career hasn’t gone quite as planned, he isn’t giving up hope. He’s going to continue working hard and trying to turn his dream into reality.
“I’m willing to die for this,” Douglas-Roberts said. “It’s as simple as that. This is where I believe I belong. Things happen on your journey and I feel like I have a special journey. I’m embracing it, embracing the grind. I think all of this happens for a reason. It’s all motivation for me. It’s all part of the grind.”