Masai Ujiri projects confident vision for defending-champion Raptors

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The Toronto Raptors are considered by many to be out of title contention entering the 2019-20 season without Kawhi Leonard.

Someone forgot to give Masai Ujiri the memo.

Toronto’s president of basketball operations rejected the notion that the team will tank this year, and expects a leap from a number of contributors, including Pascal Siakam.

Here is the best of Ujiri’s press conference during Saturday’s Media Day.

Don’t expect the Raptors to tank this year

It’s obvious the Raptors’ ceiling will be lower after Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency. During a summer where many speculated that the Raptors would potentially trade Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in an effort to accelerate a rebuild, Ujiri was having none of it.

For the first time since the start of the 2014-15 season, there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut title favourite. It’s something the Raptors can certainly capitalize on, sitting outside the group of top-tier contenders.

Ujiri’s confidence is contagious, and the Raptors aren’t going down without a fight.

Raptors’ young stars expected to make leap

Pascal Siakam is the NBA’s Most Improved Player, a designation that usually portends future stardom. Ujiri expects Siakam to be even better in 2019-20, and expects stark improvement from some of Siakam’s teammates.

It’s a scary proposition that OG Anunoby will be back after missing the 2018-19 playoffs due to injury, and the defensive stalwart is another young piece that could be in the mix for Most Improved Player this year. Fred VanVleet became the Steph Curry stopper during the NBA Finals, and with all three players still entering their primes, the Raptors’ development model continues to be a sustainable resource.

Lowry deserves legacy status

Kyle Lowry has been the face of the franchise for years, and it’s something Ujiri is definitely considering when looking at his future with the club.

“Kyle has an incredible legacy here that I think we all have underrated,” Ujiri said. “We’ve had our ups and downs and bumps and grinds, but the inner core of who he is as a player and what he’s done with this franchise, he definitely deserves that. There’s legacy status for him in my opinion. Someone who has given it his all: five-time All-Star while we’ve been here – could have been a six-time All-Star, that first one was a close shave.

“We can say whatever we want about Kyle. He comes and gives it his all on the court. He’ll give me a headache once a month but that’s fine. That’s our relationship. I really respect him for that. We’ll always pay Kyle that respect. What he’s done for this city, for this ball club, is remarkable.”

It appears Lowry won’t be going anywhere soon and if he does, he’ll certainly have some say in how the back end of his career plays out.

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