May 28, 2024

Lewenberg: Clock is ticking on Toronto Raptors' evaluation period | TSN

TORONTO – Masai Ujiri had had enough at this point ten years ago.

Early in his first season leading the Raptors, he was putting his head down and waiting to see what would happen. However, an early December breaking point forced his hand. Their record fell to 6-12 after they started that historic 2013–14 season right around the.500 mark due to a five-game losing streak.

They didn’t have the talent to be elite players in the NBA, nor the bad luck to be truly awful. Not because the core group of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Rudy Gay lacked talent, but rather because it didn’t mesh.

Desperate to bring about a radical change within the organization, Ujiri had been appointed head of basketball operations that summer, taking over from Bryan Colangelo. He dreamed of championship banners, packed arenas, and league-wide, even international, prominence.

They would arrive eventually, but not in the manner that Ujiri or anyone else could have predicted at the time. All of their accomplishments over the last ten years can be linked to that season and a nine-player trade that was finalized ten years ago; the latter deal altered the course of the franchise and unintentionally ignited the most prosperous period in Raptors history.

Before Ujiri took over, Toronto had endured the longest playoff drought in team history, averaging just thirty wins per season over a five-year period. After reorganizing the front office, he traded Andrea Bargnani—the ill-fated former first-overall selection and, for better or worse, the face of the Colangelo era—to New York as his first task.

Thought to be eyeing a strong 2014 class, led by Canadian sensation and projected top pick Andrew Wiggins, there was a feeling he might decide to go all in for a complete rebuild.

For the team’s three best players—DeMar DeRozan, who has the longest contract; Kyle Lowry, who was coming off a bad first season in Toronto; and Rudy Gay, who was acquired less than a year earlier—what would that mean? Before the campaign began, there was no shortage of uncertainty.

To make interviews clearer and longer, they have been edited.

Guard Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors: “That year we didn’t know what the hell was going to happen because [Ujiri] was imposing his regime and, in essence, firing everybody. I think he was motivated to demonstrate his identity as a general manager.

” Masai challenged me to identify my vision for myself as a player during our summer meeting. “You could be a $4 million player, or you could be a [eight-figure] salary player,” he said at the time. Thus, it was simply a matter of figuring out who I was and how I wanted to present myself to the world.

“Rudy and Kyle were really close [from their three seasons together in Memphis],” said Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. Kyle’s contract year was about to begin.

Although [Ujiri] wasn’t a rookie—he had served as general manager [in Denver]—he still wanted to add his own unique touch to the program. Unlike most [new] general managers, he made the decision to keep me there and allowed me to stay to see the rebuild through to completion.

Toronto Raptors forward Landry Fields said, “Right before training camp started, we had a team meeting, and [Ujiri] came in and gave a very passionate speech. “The losing is done in Toronto,” he seemed to be saying repeatedly as he glanced around the room. And he was staring directly into everyone’s eyes while holding out his finger.

Guard for the Toronto Raptors, DeMar DeRozan: “I hadn’t made the playoffs going into my fifth year.” I recall witnessing many of my classmates who were selected in the 2009 NBA Draft [playing] in the postseason, qualifying for All-Star Games, and emerging victorious.

All I wanted to do was feel that. I had no idea what the season would hold. I recall the general atmosphere that year being one of wanting to tank for Wiggins. My only goal going into that season, that summer, was to win. However, the season had a rough beginning.

 

 

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