Raptors News

Masai Ujiri end-of-season media: No tanking in the cards, maintains belief in what’s being built

He was fired up.

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri conducted his end-of-season press conference with media on Wednesday.We’ll be trying to digest all of this in the coming days, by the way. There was simply way too much to analyze in one piece, so we’ll tackle some of the finer points in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, here’s a quick look at some of what he had to say.

You can read Dwane Casey’s comments here.

A killer opener:

“I can’t pull the culture reset off this year, can I?”

On his evaluation of the season, and the timeline from here:

“First of all, I really commend the team. Whether it’s our team players, coaching staff, front office, everybody, I want to commend them for a great season. We are absolutely disappointed with the ending of the season. In terms of evaluating it’s kind of the same thing that I say every year. We are going through the process now. It takes me, it takes the front office a lot of time to gather all the information, talk to each other, debriefs, have meetings, watch more film, have exit interviews, talk to our players. We are going to go through the same old process like that. I’m sorry. I know it bores you guys. But it’s the same thing over again. Right now everybody still feels, I think, hurt and disappointed. I have had some exit meetings with the young players. Generally it’s just looking at things how we are evaluating our performance, especially in the playoffs.

I think in the regular season there was good success, but going from last year to this year we are happy with the jump we made, with some of the things we said we wanted to do. We got stuck at a certain point and we just continue to evaluate.”

On small margins for error in the playoffs, including calls:

“There are many things. When you look at, I think people will say running into a player that good you will weigh that in. When you look at our team generally, what happened? I personally think just looking at it from a short 48 hours, I go back to Game 1 to be honest. What turned things there? Giving up a lead or the calls, the missing layups. All those things. The margin of error in the NBA is this small. I know how confident how we came into the first game. Not just from us, not just from our fans, not just from the players, but even from you guys. Everybody felt good about it. Even after that game everyone felt good about it. OK, why did we give that game away. But for me the margin of error when you play in the playoffs is this small. There those turning points and Game 1 for us was like that. We missed so many layups, we missed bunnies, that could have won the game. We don’t blame anyone. We all lose together, but for me when i look back at it I say this was the turning point with that series and for some reason we just kind of lost something there.

We would be playing today. That’s the bottom line, I think. We would be playing, it would be a different story, because confidence helps you. There was a level of that game that was shock, and I hate to criticize anything, you know, but I tell you the margin of error is this small. I’m not one to give any excuses anywhere, but …if a flagrant foul is called and looked at, does it go a different way. I don’t know, I know one thing, we deserved, we deserved, we’ve come to a point in this league where we deserved for us to go look at that play. So that might not be the reason. We missed a hundred layups, we had 400 turnovers. But all I’m saying is the margin of error is this small and that’s the playoffs.”

On gaining experience and the steps in building to a winner:

“You know, to some extent I think that comes with experience. We’re still the second-youngest team in the playoffs, we still have a young team in some kind of way, we can’t use that as an excuse, but that’s something you build off of time and off of experience I think too. You work on it in ways that you can. In terms of coaching the mental aspect. I think our guys are tough enough, we’ve gone through tough series we’ve gone through tough times in this organization, and they’ve fought through it. But to win big in this league I think you just have to go through different stages. I don’t, I have to say it more to answer your question even better, but it’s part of what we will study. But looking at it, I just think you build that from experience. I think that comes from playing in the playoffs a lot, and getting series under your belt, and growing as a team. And sometimes that was a question for us.”

On belief, relevancy, and expectations:

“We believe in what we’re doing here, honestly. We believe in the growth. If we goto when there was a point where we’re trying to make the playoffs, trying to make the playoffs, trying to make the playoffs, and now we’re in there and we’re trying to success in the playoffs. Maybe it’s the stage that we’re going to go through. Because you know what? People can make fun of anything they want on the internet, make fun of the team, make fun of getting beat and all that stuff. Hey, there’s only one team, one team in the NBA is going to win the NBA championship and 29 teams are going to be not winners and 29 teams are going to be disappointed and we’re one of them.

So we have to sit back and go see exactly what we have to do to get back. But it’s never, to me, it’s not doomsday. Where our program is is not doomsday. Because if people are talking about us that means some way somehow we’re relevant now in the NBA. And when you get relevant, now you have to meet the challenges, every day, of expectations and growing. And getting bigger, and winning. And that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

On Dwane Casey’s job status and looking at all areas to improve:

“Whatever the things that we have to do to get there, I’m going to, collectively we’re going to evaluate. So yeah, everybody can question Casey all they want, you can question Kyle all you want, you can question DeMar DeRozan all you want. Guess what? I have to look at a body of work. As a leader I have to look at a body of work that had been done over the last five years and think what’s the last five years, and what’s the next five years ahead. And that’s what I have to do, and that’s what I’m going to do. Yes, there are weaknesses. And yes there are strengths. Guess what? Not everybody has them. And I have to figure out a way. I say it again, there’s only going to be one champion here, so everybody else is going to be disappointed. And we are disappointed right now.

I said we’re going to evaluate everything, and we’re going to. I believe in Dwane Casey, I believe in the work that he’s done. It’s not different from anything I said last year. Trust me. I’m looking at everything negative and positive. I looked at it that way last year, negative and positive, and how it all comes together. More about bringing everything together. Factoring that, means winning and how do we win? To me this organization should be be all about winning, and how do we build winning? I go through the whole process, whether it’s talking to our ownership, whether it’s talking to Casey and his staff, whether it’s talking to the front office, talking to players. I don’t know that we can do anything 24 hours later. These are things we really have to evaluate.

Coach Casey has been unbelievable for our organization and I treat it the same exact way that we’ve done every year, including the years that we’ve done well. To go back and look at everything. I’m having conversations with Coach Casey, same exact way I had conversations with him last year, two years ago. I met with Casey for two hours this morning, same thing. I’m meeting with him, staff and we go through every single thing, it’s just our routine. It’s my responsibility as a leader to do that and we’ll go from there.”

On where the franchise has gotten to, and why they won’t tank:

“What these guys have done will remain in history in this organization. No question about it. I think we have to respect that. Forget the noise and what everybody says. It’s incredible where we’ve come in the last five years – and that’s not a pat on the back – but we go through stages of winning, and maybe we’re going through a stage. I believe in this. I believe in the city. When people talk about greats, they come and go.  Kobe came and went, Jordan. Casey will come and go, I will, Kyle, but Toronto basketball will be here for 100 years and will stay here. Anyone who wants to poke fun, hey, we’re proud of the moments we’ve spent here and we’re really proud of what’s going to come after this.

These are different questions I was getting after the season or after the Washington series. It was like ‘maybe these guys have arrived’. I come back to that margin of error. We have to go through great players to win, and we have to find great players too. I give our staff credit for finding young players. If they want us to break this up and start over, you might get fined for using this word but ‘tanking’, but no, we’re not doing that here. We’re finding young players we want to grow and we want to win. However way we can develop players, develop them to that level of superstar, we’ll do it. What these guys have done with their careers – I wish I could get the same question anybody asked us, and that’s a pat on the bat for DeMar, Kyle, Casey for what they’ve done here and how they continue to grow every year – all-star, record wins, they go and give their best. I think they prove people wrong in some kind of way. It’s not at every time that every organization is going to have that generational player. That comes with strategy, luck, planning, winning, many things, and I believe we have that structure and we’ve created that culture here. We can get there at some point.”

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