Despite losing two starters, defending champions the Toronto Raptors are not giving up on their dreams of a second NBA title, says general manager Masai Ujiri.
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At media day last year, Ujiri introduced his new acquisitions – Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green – who helped lead Toronto to their maiden NBA championship.
Leonard and Green departed in free agency in the offseason, and at the 2019 media day on Saturday, Ujiri and coach Nick Nurse acknowledged it is a time of transition for the champions, who enter their 25th season in the NBA.
Nick Nurse in discussion with former Raptors stars Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green
“As you look at our roster, you realise there’s a couple of starters missing from that team,” Nurse said. “There are opportunities to take on new identities, expand roles – maybe take on new roles.”
Ujiri said the team’s offseason changes are part of the nature of the NBA.
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“I can’t sit here and trade DeMar [DeRozan], then Kawhi leaves us, and be upset,” Ujiri said. “That’s just the nature of the business. We understand it and we move on as an organisation.”
Ujiri will face decisions this year, with the contracts of four key players – Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet – expiring.
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“I think there are many bright spots with our team. Whether it’s our veteran players, whether it’s our players coming up and the younger group that we are developing. We are always going to be a developing team,” Ujiri said.
“We go in confident about who we are as a team and we’re excited about the flexibility that we are going to have in the future – picks, young players and we’ll go from there.”
The Toronto Raptors made a stop in Las Vegas to celebrate their maiden NBA title
And he isn’t ready to give up on the dream of another title.
“We play sports to win, there’s nothing else. We can do all the dance we want, say whatever we want ‘rebuild, blah blah, blah’ … anything you do, you play sports to win. It’s that simple and we are playing to win,” he said.
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And that’s what Lowry, a five-time All-Star entering his eighth season with the Raptors, wants, too.
“I mean, it’s always the same goal for me,” Lowry, 33, said. “I’m motivated even more than ever now. Getting a taste of it, you always want to continue to grow and continue to get it, and you want to continue to get that feeling. It’s an unexplainable feeling, but you want it.”
Pascal Siakam applauds his team-mates during the Raptors’ Game 1 win over the Golden State Warriors
The Raptors will be looking for Pascal Siakam to assume the status as the go-to player. Ujiri said Saturday that signing the 25-year-old to a long-term deal is a priority.
“I really don’t focus on that, to be honest,” Siakam said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m too humble. I just want to continue to get better and I think basketball will speak for it.
“If I go out there and ball out, then we can talk about it later.”
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