Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri held a press conference Friday to discuss the team’s acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Some relevant notes and quotes follow, with video here.
An opening statement:
First off, I want to not only apologize to DeMar DeRozan for maybe a gap of mis-communication but also to acknowledge him and what he’s done with the Raptors, for this city, for this country. There is no better to what this kid has done. We appreciate him, I promise you that we’re going to celebrate him in the best possible way we can as long as I’m here.
It’s one of the tough things of this business because we are, we want to win and I have to do everything in this organization to get us to a championship level. But there’s also the human side to this business and that’s the part I really struggle with the most and that’s what’s most difficult. There’s excitement but not only excitement but there’s also, I’m a loyal person and you build relationships in this business over the years and you have relationships with players, with people, and the human part doesn’t make it easy at all. But I understand sports, sports is about winning and I have a mandate to win and that’s what I want to do, is win, to win a championship, (put) the Toronto Raptors in a position to win a championship.
But I really do acknowledge there’s not measurement for what DeMar DeRozan has done for this organization. Also Jakob Poeltl. We drafted him and there’s a closeness to kids that you draft and you have certain relationships. Those guys will be missed and I do acknowledge everything that they’ve done here. That being said, is one to the next chapter with the Raptors and we’re excited to welcome Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to our home. Hopefully, on paper, we feel we have a team that can compete in the East and maybe hopefully compete for a championship in this league. That’s why we play, that’s why we play sports, to win and play for a championship. We’re really exited bout this, getting a top-five player in the NBA into our fold and hopefully, this will elevate us.
On what he’s apologizing to DeMar DeRozan for:
DeMar has done so much for this organization. I think when you are in my position, you always want to be open with what you can do. Maybe I should have handled it a little bit better.
I had a conversation with DeMar at Summer League and I really want to leave it at that. We spoke and I spoke to him. I think maybe my mistake was talking about what we expected going forward from him. Not necessarily talking about a trade but what I expect from him going forward and I think that’s where the gap was, because in my job I always have to assume that I’m going forward with the team that I have. If there was a miscommunication there, I do apologize to DeMar and his family and his representation. It’s not what I meant. These things come and go, opportunities come and go and we have to react, in my position, and I had to react at this time.
After every season, I meet with all the agents of the players, or Bobby does, and I did meet with DeMar’s representation. For me, it was to lay out what all the options are. When I met with Aaron at Summer League, I think maybe my mistake was saying there was nothing imminent at the time. I apologize to them if it was a mistake. At the time, we were fourth on the ranks of trying to get anything done and I didn’t see anywhere the talks were going, and that’s the message I delivered. It’s my job to talk about our team as it is. That’s my job every year, and they would acknowledge that I do that with them every year.
On why this was worth the risk:
All I’ll say is without all this medical drama that there is, we have no chance of talking to a player like that. Zero. You have no chance. He would be signed to a new, and we wouldn’t have a chance to get him. This is why we have a chance, this was the risk that we are taking. We’ve looked at some of the medicals as soon as the deal was done and the rest will depend on the physical that will be done shortly.
We’ve been doing this for how many years? You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and when you get a chance to get a top 5 player – which isn’t very often – I think you have to jump on it. I think we’ve given a chance to his team, we tried to build it up as much as we can but at this point, ,we got to this level, this opportunity came in front of us and we had to jump on it.
I understand DeMar. He was unbelievably loyal to us. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s one of those things why I will not be doing this one day. The human part of this business is to me what it’s all about. He has no fault. Our team is just not at that level. We keep pounding on the same thing over and over again. I think if we look at ourselves honestly, we have to do something different. Even if it wasn’t this, we have to do something different. I take responsibility for that. But I haven’t got that sense from Kawhi Leonard or his people. We’re going to give him that chance when we meet him face to face.
On how to fell Kawhi Leonard on Toronto:
That’s my job and I think that’s why I’m in this seat is to try and figure that part out. I’ve had conversations with Kawhi, with his agent, with his uncle and everything has gone well. I’m look forward to meeting with them face-to-face. That’s our responsibility, is to figure it out and to make them as comfortable as possible and, on his part, hear more on what he wants in our team, in the future, and go from there. I take responsibility for that and I’m confident. I think we have a good game plan and we’ll see how that goes.
I think there’s a lot to sell here. Our team, our culture, our city, our ownership, we have everything here except a championship, in my humble opinion. I don’t think we lack anything in this city. We have great fans, we have a great organization,we have a great following, I think we have a great country. There is something about this place that reaches out to the whole world and we’re proud of that and we’re going to continue to sell that. Hopefully it’s an appeal, not only to him but to more NBA players.
On the contact with Leonard so far:
He didn’t express a lack of interest about playing in Canada to me. A lot of these things are everybody has their own opinion about everything. I know firsthand. I dealt with this kind of a situation in my first job as a rookie, so I know firsthand how these things work and how they don’t work. I understand with DeMar, he was unbelievably loyal to us. I’ve never seen anything like it. (inaudible) The human part of this business, to me, is what it’s all about. He has now faults, our team is just not at that level and we keep pounding on the same thing over and over again. I think if we look at ourselves honestly everybody knows (inaudible) that we had to do something different, even if it wasn’t this. We had to figure out something different. I take responsibility for that. I haven’t gotten that sense from Kawhi Leonard or his people and I’m going to give him that chance when we meet face-to-face.
I’ve talked to him a couple of times, and Bobby has talked to him and his representatives. I didn’t get a sense of any negativity or anything different other than just wanting to know me and us better and looking forward to meeting face-to-face.
- Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were not yet in Toronto but are expected to take their physicals within the next couple of days.
- Masai Ujiri had yet to speak with Kyle Lowry and acknowledged he may be upset, though
- He deferred to Bobby Webster on other moves that may be coming, saying they’re happy with where the team’s at but also that they’ll explore options to improve still. The buzz is that they’d also like to shed some salary, which isn’t surprising given how deep into the tax they are now.
- DeMar DeRozan did not appear to take the apology well, unpinning the I Got Us tweet and posting this on his IG story: