No matter what, in life you will face adversity. It’s not the adversity that is the test, it’s how you respond to the adversity that is the true test. Heading into the 2021-22 season, Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors had made it through their fair share of adversity after playing essentially 82 away games and battling injuries throughout the entire season. Masai Ujiri famously coined the term “Play-In for what?” last season when asked about his vision for the Toronto Raptors and this ideology has led to great returns for arguably the best GM in the NBA. One thing about Masai is that he always finds his guy he believes in and more often than not he can and will find success in the NBA draft.
After a season played in Tampa where the Toronto Raptors recorded a record of 27-45, they were able to take the next step towards their future. Masai had to say goodbye to Raptors legend Kyle Lowry in a sign and trade deal with the Miami Heat which sent Kyle Lowry to the Heat and Goran Dragic, and Precious Achiuwa to the Toronto Raptors. This deal landed Masai a young player he had his eyes on for quite some time in Precious Achiuwa, even going as far as saying to him “You’re mine now” after the deal went through. This wasn’t the only young player that Masai would covet and attain in the off-season though. During the 2021 NBA draft the Toronto Raptors earned the number 4 pick after a tumultuous season in Tampa. Masai had his pick of many of the top prospects but it was consensus that he was going to decide between Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and Florida State University’s Scottie Barnes. After much speculation on the decision he would make with the number 4 draft pick, Masai selected the 6’7 forward Scottie Barnes which led to great returns after a rookie of the year season in which the young forward averaged 15.3 points,7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Masai also kept the theme of jumbo playmakers when he drafted 6’7 point guard Dalano Banton.
By no means was this intended to be a season of championship contention, but that didn’t stop Masai from locking up valuable players with extensions and bolstering the roster with a mid-season trade. Gary Trent Jr, and Precious Achiuwa are some of the notable players to be given extensions and these players provide immense value to the Raptors current vision. Trent Jr with his adequate team defense and good floor spacing along with Precious’ extremely versatile defense and burgeoning shooting. Masai made a trade around the trade deadline for a veteran player who proved to add value to the team. Masai traded the disgruntled Goran Dragic and a first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Drew Eubanks, and Thaddeus Young. Thaddeus Young posted averages of 6.3 points, 1.7 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game with the Toronto Raptors which may not be eye popping stats but, Thaddeus as a Raptor provided well needed relief off the bench for his tenure last season. He showed connectivity as a passer and fit well with the Raptors defense so Masai offered him an extension for this upcoming season.
A different perspective to consider when critiquing a GM is to look at the moves they did NOT make. There were many rumors in the previous off season about Pascal Siakam possibly being traded and the Toronto Raptors carrying on with a full rebuild. Masai held strong and kept his franchise player and this led to an impressive run to the playoffs for the Raptors. A common theme for Masai this season and for his entire career is having strong conviction and doing things his own way and this conviction has led to a promising future for the Toronto Raptors. Not only are the Raptors equipped to succeed in the present day, they are also set up nicely for the future due in large part to Masai Ujiri’s basketball genius.