Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri once had the New York Knicks organization so shell-shocked from an Andrea Bargnani-related fleecing that owner James Dolan balked at surrendering a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry. Those are the kind of feelings that don’t just dissipate. If someone can shake you like that once, they have the potential to forever haunt your soul.
And so with the Knicks an evergreen mess, Ujiri is once again being tied to the Knicks, albeit this time in a much different way. You’re going to love this, trust me.
With Knicks president Phil Jackson taking on a larger coaching role alongside interim bench boss Kurt Rambis – who replaced Jackson’s first hire, Derek Fisher, whom Jackson fired halfway through his second season – doubt is being cast as to the long-term power structure of the Knicks. Jackson will laughably want Rambis retained, according to Frank Isola of New York Daily News, but there’s no assurance that Dolan will sign off on such a move. If he doesn’t, Jackson’s future within the organization could be a matter of speculation.
None of this is particularly surprising, but what follows is. Here’s Isola, discussing a hypothetical where Jackson walks away from the Knicks or gets canned before his deal expires in 2018:
Among the list of potential successors is believed to be Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, the highly regarded African-born executive who has an interesting history with Dolan.
The two worked on the Anthony trade when Ujiri worked for the Denver Nuggets. Ujiri also traded Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks for this year’s first round pick and was prepared to trade Kyle Lowry to New York a few seasons ago before Dolan vetoed the move.
So clearly, this falls under the category, “if you can’t beat him, hire him.”
Isola points out that Tim Leiweke, who helped bring Ujiri to Toronto, is now gone, which I don’t think matters. Leiweke was brought in to help find guys like Ujiri and Brendan Shanahan, and to secure the NBA All-Star Game and D-League team, and it never seemed the two were tied together from a long-term basketball perspective. The Raptors organization has continued to be good to Ujiri, by all appearances, giving him the assets – the 905, the Hershey Centre – he needs to succeed while also helping him further his charitable goals. Ujiri also has two years left on his deal beyond this season.
Look, maybe there’s something here, because money talks and it’s a marquee franchise and all, but I don’t think there’s much to worry about here from a Raptors perspective. Of course a bad team is interested in a well-regarded executive from a rival club, one in their division, no less. There’s absolutely nothing in the report to suggest the interest is mutual, and there’s never been any indication Ujiri is anything but happy in Toronto. This is much, much more a Knicks story than a Raptors one.
But we have to pass these things along.