Raptors, Ujiri yet to discuss contract extensionon September 17, 2020 at 9:08 pm

Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, who has one year remaining on his contract, on Thursday said he has yet to enter discussions with team ownership about an extension.

“No, I haven’t had discussions, and honestly, coming out of this, things are a little raw,” Ujiri said on a conference call with reporters. “I’m going to reflect a little bit, and we will address it when it’s time to address it.”

Instead, Ujiri said his focus has been on getting extensions for the other members of his leadership team, as general manager Bobby Webster and head coach Nick Nurse were on the same contract cycle as Ujiri.

Ujiri was “super excited” after Nurse, the Coach of the Year this season after winning an NBA title with the Raptors last season, received a multiyear extension last week. Webster also is on the verge of getting an extension, Ujiri said.

“The future is bright,” Ujiri said. “But in terms of me, I haven’t had those conversations, and I’ll wait until those happen in the future.”

When he was asked about how those deals were getting done with his future still up in the air, Ujiri pushed back on the notion that taking care of those who work under him first was an improper order of operations.

“Maybe you take care of the organization first and then you go last?” Ujiri asked in response. “Maybe?”

Ujiri’s contract is just one of many unknowns awaiting the Raptors over the next year. After losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency last summer, Toronto has made no secret that it would be going big-game hunting in free agency next offseason. The obvious top candidate is presumptive two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Raptors also have plenty of questions to answer this offseason — beginning with free agents Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. VanVleet’s future is the most pressing concern, as he is likely to have a robust market and Toronto will have to mind its cap space as it hopes to pursue Antetokounmpo next year. Ibaka and Gasol, on the other hand, both could be candidates to return on one-year deals.

Ujiri said he would like to bring back all three, but the Raptors have to balance both the short and long term in deciding how to approach this offseason and beyond.

“We do respect who our players are. Yes, they are a priority. Fred is a priority for us. Our bigs are a priority. Serge is a priority,” Ujiri said. “We have to really attack this head-on and we know where their game is. We know how much they can improve. We try to project that as much as we can. We know where they have come from too, because we have gone through all these struggles with all these guys and we mutually appreciate that.”

One of the players who noticeably struggled with life inside the league’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort was Pascal Siakam. The 26-year-old All-Star forward, who earned a second-team All-NBA nod Wednesday, averaged just 14.9 points on 39.4% shooting during a seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Siakam shot a dismal 4-for-32 from 3-point range during the series — failing to make a single shot from that distance over the final three games.

Still, Ujiri defended Siakam, reminding everyone of how important he was to Toronto’s success this season and projecting big things for him in the future.

“We tried to understand what he went through,” Ujiri said. “We talked extensively. Honestly it wasn’t even just me. I think Kyle and Fred, those guys did an incredible job, coach Nick Nurse, Bobby, everybody stood by Pascal. There is something about that bubble that brought all of us together. That was truly unique for me.

“I know Pascal. We all know Pascal. Sometimes we need this, almost like a kick in the butt, some kind of adversity. And he is going to bounce back 100 percent from this. He acknowledged it. You guys saw it. He felt he let the team down. We feel that we will just stick by him, stay with him, as always.”

Ujiri also went out of his way to praise star point guard Kyle Lowry, with whom he has had a contentious relationship in the past. Ujiri said he wanted the talk about those days to end and instead to focus on Lowry’s huge impact on the franchise over the past several seasons.

“I’ll tell you what: I don’t even want to say it’s been up and down anymore with Kyle Lowry,” Ujiri said. “That guy is a stud. OK? I’m telling the whole world, that guy is incredible. What he has done for this whole organization. … I don’t want to start pushing him as a Hall of Famer and all this stuff, because I want 10 more incredible years from this guy.

“It seems to me the older he becomes, the better he becomes. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that. As a human being, as a person, as a teammate, Kyle was phenomenal.”

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