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Raptors Chairman Tanenbaum Says Masai Ujiri 'Here to Stay' amid Knicks Rumors

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2019

TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 22: President Masai Ujiri, and Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors pose for a photo with their Championship Ring after the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 22, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Toronto Raptors have no plans to part ways with team president Masai Ujiri despite lingering rumors of the New York Knicks' interest in acquiring his services.

Larry Tanenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and part-governor of the Raptors, said of Ujiri to Postmedia's Michael Traikos: "He is the best. But no team can come to talk to him. That's tampering. And every owner knows that. Masai is here to stay."

Tanenbaum said the Raptors haven't spoken about a contract extension with Ujiri, given that he's under contract through the 2020-21 season, but added the goal is to keep him in Toronto long-term.

"We hope so," he said. "We haven't talked [about an extension] at this point in time, but if you ask him, his intentions are pretty clear."

Ujiri, 49, masterminded the organization's first championship last season. The Raptors had made five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the NBA Finals and had been eliminated by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers three straight times.

Toronto's front office took a major gamble, trading beloved star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Leonard was coming off an injury-plagued and controversial season where he had a falling-out with the Spurs, and he was also entering the final year of his contract and was a threat to depart in free agency.

He did leave the next summer, but not before leading the Raptors to a title and winning Finals MVP. For title-starved Toronto, the one-year rental was the best trade in franchise history.

Ujiri's tenure with Toronto has made him one of the most highly regarded executives in the sport. As Ian Begley of SNY reported, the Knicks have eyes for him amid their annual, and borderline comic, ineptitude:

"Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That's unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been 'obsessed' with—and 'enamored' by—the Raptors executive, per SNY sources.

"In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy.

"Whether Knicks owner James Dolan will grant that kind of autonomy remains to be seen."

Landing Ujiri would be a major boon for the Knicks given the rebuilding job he did in Toronto since becoming the team president and general manager in 2013 (Bobby Webster was promoted to general manager in 2017).

Whether he would consider such a job is unclear. According to Begley, "One person in touch with Ujiri recently came away with the impression that he wasn't too excited about the idea of joining the Knicks."

However, Howard Beck of Bleacher Report reported that Ujiri might have interest:

"Sources also say Ujiri would be intrigued by the challenge of fixing the Knicks, the chance to build something from scratch and, not insignificantly, by the opportunity to elevate his Giants of Africa philanthropy by working in the New York market.

"Influential voices in the NBA have strongly advised Ujiri not to take the job, if it's ever offered, sources say. But those same sources say Ujiri might do it anyway, if the money is right, if he's granted the necessary autonomy and if Dolan funds Giants of Africa as generously as the Raptors ownership group has."

Expect the Raptors to make a major push to keep him if the links to the Knicks grow stronger.