Raptors' Masai Ujiri Talks Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan Trade, More

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2020

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 10: President Masai Ujiri of the Toronto Raptors looks on during the game between the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets during the 2019 Summer League at the Cox Pavilion on July 10, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 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. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri joined TNT's Ernie Johnson on Monday for an extensive interview that covered a number of topics such as the decision to part ways with DeMar DeRozan and head coach Dwane Casey, his relationship with Kawhi Leonard and whether he believes the NBA will finish its 2019-20 season. 

"I have a great relationship with Kawhi," Ujiri said while revealing their families are close to each other and keep in contact.

He also said their "friendship has evolved" even though Leonard joined the Los Angeles Clippers after just one season in Toronto.

Ujiri, who won the NBA's Executive of the Year award with the Denver Nuggets before he came to the Raptors prior to the 2013-14 season, was able to acquire Leonard and Danny Green from the San Antonio Spurs before the 2018-19 campaign for a trade package that included fan favorite DeRozan.

Toronto selected DeRozan with the No. 9 overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft, and he was half of a formidable one-two punch with Kyle Lowry that guided the team to the playoffs five straight years before the trade.

Casey was a big part of that as the head coach from 2011-12 through 2017-18, but the team moved on from him in the same offseason it traded DeRozan. It just fell short against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference playoffs too many times and was looking to take the next step.

"It's not easy, Ernie," Ujiri said of those decisions. "That human part of you, you feel it in your heart."

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The team president said he cried after moving on from both Casey, who he called "an unbelievable person," and DeRozan, noting "we all have human sides to us."

Ujiri said he still has a solid relationship with Casey but admitted there is "still plenty of work to be done" when it comes to DeRozan.

Still, the trade was a fruitful one, as Leonard led the Raptors to the championship in his only season. While his arrival was well-timed with James' departure to the Western Conference, he was the NBA Finals MVP in a victory over the Golden State Warriors and stunned the Philadelphia 76ers with a buzzer-beater to win Game 7 of their second-round series.

The Raptors may not have a chance to defend their title if play doesn't resume this season, but Ujiri believes it will.

"I am confident that we will get back to playing in some kind of way," he said.

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