How the Raptors built a championship team

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NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

With the start of the Toronto Raptors’ 25th Anniversary season only a couple of months away, we’re taking a look at the leadership, decisions, and intangibles that came together to make them champions

Having just finished spending a lot of time talking about why the New York Knicks have managed to be so bad for so long, I’ve come to an entirely new appreciation of how easy it is to be a fan of the Toronto Raptors. It goes well beyond the poetry inherent in the fact that they get to spend their 25th anniversary season as NBA Champions.

And it starts even before the “Larry O B“, as Kyle Lowry affectionately referred to the NBA Championship trophy, was within reach. We’re going to take a look back at the moves that went into creating a historic NBA Championship.

On May 31, 2013, the Raptors announced that Masai Ujiri had been hired as their General Manager. And while Ujiri gets so much of the credit for what the Raptors have been able to accomplish, he wouldn’t be in his position but for two things.

First, unlike most NBA teams where ownership conversations center around the name of one or two specific people, James Dolan, and Mark Cuban, for example, the Raptors are owned not by an individual but by Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment. And this, overall, has been good for the franchise. What MLSE’s ownership of the Raptors means to me, in a nutshell, is decisions aren’t being made by a rich individual with an ego.

The second fact is that MLSE was responsible for making Tim Liewke their president and CEO and Liewke was responsible for bringing Masai Ujiri back to Toronto fresh off being awarded Executive of the Year with the Denver Nuggets. Those two blocks make up the foundations on which the 2018- 19 championship Raptors were built.

Ujiri had held different front-office positions with the Toronto Raptors before going to Denver where he really made a name for himself. That’s also where the air of luckiness that has contributed to the Raptors getting where they are started to coalesce around Ujiri. But for James Dolan’s impatience and recklessness in deciding he must have Carmelo Anthony right now, who knows, maybe the legend that is now Masai Ujiri never materializes.

But as it turned out, Ujiri had what Dolan wanted and he was able to leverage that situation into the best possible deal for Denver. But, that wasn’t the only time Ujiri made moves that got him noticed. He was also able to make deals to land Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee and drafted Kenneth Faried and Evan Fournier.

Masai Ujiri has a knack for making the right moves at the right time. He’s found that elusive balance between being just patient enough to not jump the gun and make rush decisions but decisive and bold enough to make the big moves that make sense at the right time.

I refer to Masai Ujiri as a Jedi Master frequently in conversation because if ever the Force was with someone, it’s with Masai.

In the interest of full disclosure, this will not be the last Star Wars reference in this article. I’m a nerd and I love it and this analogy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.