Masai Ujiri leaves the Raptors. So what?

Masai Ujiri has left the Raptors to become the Nuggets’ GM. I want to feel like we’ve lost something, but need some convincing.

Masai Ujiri has accepted the Nuggets GM job after Suns executive David Griffin turned it down because it wasn’t near the $1 million median salary for recently hired general managers like Cleveland’s Chris Grant, Dell Demps of New Orleans and Portland’s Rich Cho. Ujiri, a former Denver employee who spent four years in the Nuggets’ scouting department, will be tasked with figuring out how to convince Carmelo Anthony to stay and who to trade J.R Smith to.

From a Raptors angle, this could be a case of ‘you don’t know what you got till it’s gone’, except that it’s hard to figure out just exactly what he brought to the mix. Africa was his specialty but other than drafting Solomon Alabi, who could turn out to be a rotation player in the league, his work is hard to spot. That’s not an indictment on him since the entire Raptors organization, despite having assistant GMs who have apparently great knowledge of the international scene, hasn’t been able to poach any decent international players in a long time. Ujiri was hired on July 30, 2007, which is after our division-winning season, so he can’t be credited with Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker, the two Colangelo-imported “foreign” players that have been most useful to the Raptors. That’s not to say he didn’t have a hand in drafting DeMar DeRozan, scouting out Sonny Weems etc., it’s just that nothing quite sticks out with him. Colangelo once described him as “one of the brightest young minds in the game”, certainly, that hasn’t shown itself to be true just yet, but he’s only 39 and will get his chance to be great.

Whenever an executive switches organization and comes into a position of greater power, as Ujiri has, it’s usually the case that they have maintained good relations with their former employer. This can be a big influence in executing future transactions between the two clubs. As Ujiri settles in to his new post and eyes a reorganization of the roster, his mind will no doubt be thinking of the Raptors players he has a keen interest in and who the organization might be willing to part with. Obviously, Alabi would be high on the list. As the Nuggets look to offload J.R Smith, and given the Raptors’ previous interest in the player (offered a Kapono-Smith trade), those talks could catch flame once again. Since those talks, the Raptors have added DeRozan, Weems and Wright to the roster, so the proposition isn’t as attractive as it was before, but it could still be a possibility because we know Colangelo doesn’t give up a hunt for a player.

The surprising part about this whole story is the Nuggets’ unwillingness to pay their first-choice candidate an average new-GM salary. If you’re to entrust your franchise to a single individual, is it really worth haggling over half a million dollars when your payroll is bulging at $83M?

Here’s a radio interview with Ujiri the day after the 2010 draft.

Andrea Bargnani has been speaking about the Italian team and how playing heavy minutes for the Raptors is helping him out. He’s also saying he’s looking to add something to his ‘arsenal’ this summer, it’s mostly a generic interview, except for one part which I couldn’t agree more with. It’s his take on international friendlies, and as I’d like to think, their NBA equivalent preseason games:

“The friendly games are of no use because there’s no pressure, no tension or fear, that which makes you experience real moments on the court.”

The Raptors announced ticket information for their pre-season game against the Knicks in Montreal on October 22nd. It’s hard to believe that this is the first time the Raptors are playing in Montreal, I thought Montreal would’ve been ahead of Hamilton, Edmonton, and London on the list. Anyway, it’ll cost you $9 to get in and $500 to sit courtside.

Here’s a recent video of YGZ® dominating a bunch of guys who work at Loblaws. Eat your heart out.

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