It took 18 long minutes before Masai Ujiri mentioned winning. He entered the media room at 4:02 pm -- extraordinarily early. Sometimes media won't have access to a front office member until the wee hours of the morning, but the team announced "we're done" only minutes after the deadline passed. The deadline was quiet, and perhaps disappointing, and Ujiri reflected both of those qualities when he entered the room. Instead of his usual inspirational confidence, bordering on bluster, Ujiri seemed resigned. He spoke quietly and slowly.
"The opportunity was not there for us for a blockbuster trade," he said, not even holding up Jakob Poeltl as a consolation prize. "The way I look at the deadline [is] it’s really not a great place to make long-term decisions."
Ujiri usually hits the word "win" like he's playing the bongos at Woodstock. He said "we will win in Toronto," and it inspired a generation of fans. During his end-of-season availability last season, he mentioned winning 46 times. The Raptors themselves counted how many times Scottie Barnes said the word "win" in his pre-draft interview. (He said it 27 times, the most by far of any prospect they interviewed.) The word has become something of a mantra for the team. A mantra that has been suspiciously absent all season for the team, and that was glaringly absent when Ujiri took the podium.
What did Ujiri preach instead of winning? "Patience is our thing," he said, before admitting: "I know people don’t like it as much."
Losing more than expected this season seems to have set the Raptors back eons in team planning. The Raptors are being patient this season. They are taking their time analyzing the fit of the current core.
"I know we have to look at fit sometimes, but I think generally if I am looking at fit with this team, I have to give it until the end of the season to look at that," said Ujiri. Especially, he added in more coded terms, if no one meets his exceptionally high trade prices.
So does the team fit? Well, kind of. Poeltl does address a huge number of areas of need for the team. His passing, screening, finishing, and rim protection are all desperately needed. Of course, because he's a non-shooter, he only exacerbates other areas of need. Areas -- like shooting -- that the Raptors are left hoping will improve.
Maybe the team is turning a corner. The Raptors are riding their second three-game winning streak of the season, and they did just finish a seven-game West Coast road trip with an excellent 4-3 record.
Part of Ujiri's attraction as the Vice Chairperson of the Raptors is his glowing confidence. He isn't just a basketball mind; he's a leader, full of charisma. He's a celebrity, perhaps as much as his players. But he came to collected media almost with contrition after the Raptors acquired Poeltl and made no other trades. He understands frustration from the fans. And he didn't try to bluster his way out of criticism. You could have pictured him speaking with his hat in his hands: "We need to be one of those top tier 3-point shooting teams. But we’ll get there. Whether its by addition or these guys getting better. It’s patience and we are going to grow with our team but its not, and I plead, it doesn't happen over night."
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