Masai Ujiri Talks Raptors' Future: 'There Are Going to Be Growing Pains, Trust Me'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 9, 2021

Toronto, ON- August 18  -   Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri holds a press conference to address his new title, vice-chairman, his new contract, his relationship with Kyle Lowry, and more at the X Hotel on the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. August 18, 2021.        (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri acknowledged the organization is entering a transitional phase after having steadily lost a number of key players from its 2019 championship team.

"We are a young team, but there is no deficit in leadership," he said on CBC News' Front Burner podcast. "You know, Fred [VanVleet] is an unbelievable leader. This is what everybody is going to see now....We're not a team of 'now.' There are going to be growing pains, you know like, sometimes it's gonna be tough to watch but we know what's coming, we know we're excited about the young talent."

Once they failed to re-sign Kawhi Leonard, returning to the summit of the NBA was always going to be tricky for the Raptors. 

A roster led by VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry had a clear ceiling, with the team losing to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In 2020-21, Toronto experienced numerous hardships that resulted in a 27-45 record.

Signing Giannis Antetokounmpo represented the easiest path back to the top, and Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill reported in September 2020 the Raptors were considered a contender to land him. The two-time MVP subsequently agreed to a supermax extension with the Milwaukee Bucks, taking that option off the table.

Lowry's sign-and-trade to the Miami Heat was the final domino that made an overhaul inevitable. Turning the six-time All-Star into Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa was a nice piece of business but didn't significantly improve the Raptors' short-term outlook.

The good news is that Ujiri committed his future to the franchise in August:

Toronto Raptors @Raptors

I've said it before, and I am saying it again. <br><br>We will win in Toronto.<br><br>- Masai <a href="https://t.co/KJ64UwjZPo">pic.twitter.com/KJ64UwjZPo</a>

Unless Toronto becomes a market that can attract marquee free agents, the front office may need multiple years to turn the roster into one that can regularly finish in the top four of the East again.

Ujiri was already the architect of one title-winning squad, so the fanbase can feel reasonably confident he has the right long-term vision this time around.