In the aftermath of a season he described as “challenging,” Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, back in Toronto after spending the season in Tampa, Fla., held his annual end-of-season media availability where he touched on a number of topics.

TORONTO In the aftermath of a season he described as challenging and very difficult, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, back in Toronto after spending the season in Tampa, Fla., held his annual end-of-season media availability where he touched on a number of topics.
Here are a few of the highlights from the 40-plus minutes Ujiri spent with reporters Wednesday morning.
Nothing new regarding his contract status
Obviously, the biggest story with Ujiri and probably the entire Raptors organization is the fact he needs a new contract to remain with the Raptors.
Theres a lot Ujiri said hell need to weigh, plus he said hes off to Africa soon to check out the new Basketball Africa League and meet up with family, so for the time being, the update regarding his contract is no update.
Nothing new. We just finished, so at some point, get with ownership here and sit down and talk, Ujiri said. We’re going to weigh a few of the options and just give this thing some deep thought now as I go through this process.
Sportsnets Michael Grange, has more details about Ujiris future in his latest column, where he discusses how the Raptors are right there in negotiations with Ujiri, but finding that last push to make it over the finish line with him may ultimately prove to be the toughest obstacle yet.
Its Toronto or bust next season
The Raptors obviously had a disappointing season, as they finished with a 27-45 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
And not that Ujiri or any members of the organization would use this as a crutch for what happened, but a part of why the Raptors faltered was likely tied to the fact they were displaced from home all season long after the Canadian government didnt open the border for games to be played in Toronto.
Given the state of the world regarding COVID-19 back when the season started in late December and at the midway point in March, its understandable that the Canadian government remained steadfast in its closed-border policy.
But, with the next NBA season looking like it could return to a more normal timeline starting up in the Fall, and with most of North America hopefully vaccinated by then, Ujiri made it known Wednesday that theres only one place hed like to see the Raptors call home next season.
I don’t want to be selfish on the sports part, and as an NBA worker or executive, I don’t want to be selfish and push our agenda before other people, but, yes, timing matters and we would like to be considered, because we do not want – I repeat – we do not want to play anywhere else but Toronto, Ujiri said.
With next season still a little ways away, Ujiri says the Raptors havent begun lobbying the Canadian government yet, but theyll certainly be on that sooner than later.
We havent yet, but honestly we are very determined to, said Ujiri. We want to come back and play here. I dont want to speak selfishly because I know what other people, other businesses, other workplaces are going through and the immediate need is everybody get vaccinated or as much as people want to get vaccinated is what we want. We know where we lack there. I think the government knows what they need to do. We want to play [in Toronto] 100 per cent. We have no interest in going to play anywhere else. Tampa was unbelievable to us. They were great to us, but like Freddie [VanVleet] said, Tampa is not Toronto.
Our franchise was built and was brought to play in Toronto regardless of what the situation is. So, I am saying to them they should consider that and all sports teams because we feel we are one of the safest environments that we can work with. We saw the bubble. Weve seen this. We have operated at a very high standard and a very high level and I think we make people happy. Sports make people happy, generally, and keep people entertained in many ways. So I feel strongly about … begging them or asking them to include us in the plans to come back here and play.
Just how strongly, exactly, does Ujiri feel about the Raptors being able to play in Toronto again? Well, just look at how he closed his press conference:
Thank you to you guys, hopefully youre staying safe out there and we can get out of this soon enough, he said. Im going to call [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau now and tell him, Man, weve got to play here, man.
Ujiri takes the blame for poor start this season
As you might recall, the Raptors started the season rather poorly, digging themselves into a 2-8 hole that the team had to scratch and claw to get out of, something Ujiri blamed himself for.
We had a rough start. That’s on us, that’s on me, maybe, because of our roster and some, maybe we can call ‘misfits’ as we started the season, said Ujiri.
I think on my part, I failed to see what we were looking for, maybe the type of bigs we were looking for should maybe have been a different type of player, he later added. Thats on me.
Before the season started, Ujiri and his front office were prioritizing keeping cap space open for a potential run at Giannis Antetokounmpo, which directly led to their inability to keep neither Serge Ibaka nor Marc Gasol.
The team then signed Aron Baynes and Alex Len as replacements moves that didnt work out and then came the gut-punching news that Antetokounmpo was signing an extension to remain with the Milwaukee Bucks for the foreseeable future.
This all came together, leading to Torontos bad start. Even though the team managed to recover, COVID had other plans, so all the made-up ground was erased. You have to wonder, had the Raptors managed to build up a cushion at the beginning of the season, would things have worked out differently?
The goal, once again, is always a championship
One message that has maintained since Masai Ujiri took over as president of the team is he isnt a man to think small in terms of the organizations goals.
The team’s goal every season is to win a championship.
Granted this will take incremental steps to once again climb back to the top of the mountain, but making the play-in tournament is a step that Ujiri doesnt seem to think is necessary.
We have to move forward as a franchise to compete with the best in the NBA. This is all about winning a championship again, Ujiri said. Let me tell you something guys, everybody has forgotten what has happened two years ago. OK, yes, we won, but nobody cares anymore, OK? We want to win another one. That’s what you want to do.
Yeah, you want to prepare yourself to win another one. Not play in the play-in game, not play in the playoffs, you want to win a championship. Everybody’s like, ‘Why don’t you get into the play-in?’ Play-in for what? We want to win a championship here and we have to put ourselves in position.
So, as Ujiri explained, thats mainly why the Raptors opted to play Kyle Lowry, its best player, just nine games after the trade deadline.
The play-in tournament was never a priority, not when talent acquisition could be had in the draft or when some of the teams young players could continue developing with the increased opportunity they were given.
You have to weigh your options and we are at a place with our team, whats a better place to be? Its things that we have to look at as a front office, Ujiri said. Do we play our young guys, develop them, use the experience of Fred and Kyle and these guys to help them grow a little bit. Give yourself a better chance to get a higher pick? Because obviously these young guys are going to play against better teams and better competition, they are not going to win a lot of these games. Whats the value of that? Picking in the top 10 versus picking further out if you played in a play-in game. I have to weigh that.
Sometimes people dont want to talk about it because of that word nobody wants to use. I dont look at it like that, I look at it like this was a one-year situation that we were faced with. Lots of challenges and moments where we had to adjust on the fly and thats not easy to do. Is it the right thing to do, to adjust on the fly? I dont know that we could have come with a plan, we came with a plan from Day 1 but we had to be able to adjust. Were some of our adjustments the right adjustments? We tried. And I know the players tried and everybody tried. We just have to weigh the option of which option sometimes is better than the other.
Competing for a championship has always been Ujiris goal, so if he believes playing for a better draft pick will help aid that, historical evidence suggests itll end up the right decision. Additionally, Ujiri and the Raptors front office will also have to see if keeping Lowry, an unrestricted free agent this summer, might help better their championship aspirations.
Ujiri knows Lowry remains the Raptors best player, and there likely isnt a player in this free-agency class better than him, but whether or not bringing him back furthers the goal of winning it all again doesnt look like its one and the same.
It just depends on what we are doing. When we evaluate this, we are evaluating in many ways, said Ujiri when asked if theres actually a better fit than Lowry in free agency. One of the ways we have looked at is giving the young guys even more opportunity and building the future rather than now. We have to look at the organization that way.
If you remember, I spoke like that a lot when I took the job here. We have to build. I know we won a championship and last year we were considered a team that was close, and a contender, but we’re at a place, too, where we have to look at the young players we have and maybe lift them up a little bit. And that’s kind of one of the options we will continue to examine as we look at the team.
So I understand your question when you say ‘is there a better player out there.’ It’s hard to find a better player than Kyle, now even, in this environment. He’s been incredible to us and his value is even more to us than any outside free agent in more ways. But when we look at it the other way, you can look at how do you start to build again, to get to the level that we got to?
There are tough decisions to be made ahead, but as long as Ujiri is still a Raptor, no matter how difficult it may be, itll always be made in the interest of winning Toronto another title.