Masai Ujiri says his place is with the Toronto Raptors
This Thursday, June 13, 2019, file photo, Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, center left, walks with guard Kyle Lowry after the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2019 12:17PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 25, 2019 2:30PM EDT
TORONTO -- Masai Ujiri says he appreciates the interest from other NBA clubs, but his roots are in Toronto.
The Raptors president held an end-of-season press conference Tuesday, in which he talked about his future in Toronto, winning an NBA championship and the growth of basketball in Africa and Canada.
Reports surfaced shortly after the Raptors won their first NBA title that the Washington Wizards were preparing a lucrative offer to lure Ujiri out of Toronto.
Ujiri's wife is from Washington, and the Wizards were reportedly offering an ownership stake in the team.
The native of Zaria, Nigeria called other teams expressing interest in him a “blessing,” but said he is happy in Toronto, has been able to grow with the Raptors and his two kids are Canadian.
Ujiri also said he has met with superstar Kawhi Leonard, who is set to become a free agent at the end of the month. While he called the meetings “positive” he didn't give any details of the discussions.
In a wide-ranging one-hour availability, Ujiri emphatically expressed his determination for the team to deliver on the sport's biggest stage in the future.
“We want to experience this moment here again and again and again,” he said.
The Raptors won the NBA title for the first time in the franchise's 24-year history earlier this month with a six-game victory over Golden State.
Leonard was the anchor throughout the post-season and he guided the Raptors again in the final, eventually breaking down the injury-riddled two-time defending champion Warriors.
Toronto won three times at Oracle Arena, with a 114-110 win in Game 6 serving as the clincher.
The subject of Leonard's future has been a hot topic since he arrived in Toronto last summer in a blockbuster deal with San Antonio.
A superstar in his prime, the Raptors would love to build around him for years to come. Leonard, who can soon begin negotiating with other teams as a free agent, is one of the league's best two-way players and has proven he gets results.
It would be difficult for Toronto to make a stronger pitch for his return.
Leonard was adored by the team's fanbase and was impressed when an estimated two million fans and supporters descended on the downtown core for a parade and celebration last week.
The Raptors won the Atlantic Division with a 58-24 record before dispatching Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State. After missing most of last season due to injury, the team used a 'load management' system to build Leonard up ahead of the playoffs.
It paid off as Leonard delivered one of the strongest post-season performances in recent memory.
Two other key starters also have decisions to make. Raptors centre Marc Gasol has a player option for next season and swingman Danny Green is an unrestricted free agent.
In addition, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka are both entering the final season of their lucrative three-year contracts.
Leonard is the critical domino both for the Raptors and the NBA free-agent scene.
His decision will have a huge impact on whether Toronto will be a favourite in the East next year and it will likely affect other signings with the Raptors and throughout the league.
“We have to be ourselves and we were ourselves the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.”
Ujiri declined to into details on an interaction with a sheriff's deputy as he tried to access the court area immediately after the Raptors won Game 6.
Authorities in Oakland, Calif., are investigating and the Raptors have said they are co-operating and gathering information on their own.
Ujiri admitted some mistakes were made with last week's parade and celebration, which was delayed for over three hours as buses slowly made their way along the overcrowded route.
“That was a very unfortunate situation,” Ujiri said. “But we're learning. It's our first time.”
The city and its partners have said they plan to review the planning process. Hundreds of thousands of people spent hours packed in a main square at city hall without ready access to water or washrooms.
Others found themselves caught in a terrifying situation when gunfire erupted near the square late in the proceedings. Three people were arrested.
Ujiri was also asked about the possibility of the team making a traditional championship visit to Ottawa to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and/or to Washington to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Ujiri said the team would collectively make a decision, but he thought the priority would be to go to the Canadian capital.
The Raptors' championship was Canada's first title in one of the Big Four sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB) since the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.