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‘I love being the leader of the Toronto Raptors’ — Masai Ujiri sticking around long-term in Toronto

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The Toronto Raptors might have lost Kyle Lowry, but the other face of the franchise is sticking around long-term.

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Masai Ujiri, the team’s president, has agreed to a long-term deal, the Raptors confirmed Thursday. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the contract elevates Ujiri to vice-chairman of the Raptors and the team confirmed.

“I love being the leader of the Toronto Raptors. I am here to stay,” Ujiri said in a statement.

Ujiri was only 42 in 2013 when he was lured back to Toronto from the Denver Nuggets to run the Raptors. Since then, he has built the franchise into first a force in the Eastern Conference, and eventually the 2019 NBA champions. The bold trade of franchise icon DeMar DeRozan for eventual Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green became his signature move. Ujiri has since preached that the work isn’t done. He does not want to stop at just one championship for the Raptors.

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He consistently put off signing a new deal with the club and, most recently, at a season-ending media availability in May, was not shy about asking for Raptors ownership, the NBA and the Canadian government to step up in terms of committing to doing what it takes to chase further championships; doing more to recognize and support the unique needs of Canada’s only NBA franchise and getting the team back to its real home, respectively.

The Raptors announced in February that general manager Bobby Webster had signed a multi-year extension. Webster became GM in June 2017 not long after Jeff Weltman left for the Orlando Magic.

Ujiri had long said taking care of his team was important to him — and the first order of business before his own deal.

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“My staff is pretty much done and there’s just been so much … honestly, it’s not a matter of like not doing it, I think there’s just been so much that I know I’ve pushed it out until I think we get through a lot of this,” Ujiri had said before the temporary move to Tampa.

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“It’s just so much going on with this relocation and the focus and I don’t want to be distracted that way but in terms of staff, there was even some distraction with that, because Bobby was the last one but I think we are sealing it. There’s no issues, so, I would consider that done soon enough,” Ujiri said. Two months later, Webster’s deal was completed.

“I go into this thing with a very positive mind and attitude and we hope that it goes that way,” Ujiri had said months ago about a return to the Raptors.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment co-owner Larry Tanenbaum had consistently said he expected Ujiri to be back.

Trading fan favourite DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard (above), who led the Raptors to the NBA title in 2019, remains Masai Ujiri’s signature moves. He has long insisted he wants to bring another NBA championship to Toronto> USA TODAY FILES
Trading fan favourite DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard (above), who led the Raptors to the NBA title in 2019, remains Masai Ujiri’s signature moves. He has long insisted he wants to bring another NBA championship to Toronto> USA TODAY FILES

Right after the Raptors won the 2019 championship, Wojnarowski reported that the Washington Wizards were tabling a massive offer to Ujiri. Tanenbaum said at the time, “I know Masai, he’s like my son. There is no chance he’s leaving Toronto … I think if you ask Masai, he’s got everything he wants.”

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Tanenbaum is chairman of the Raptors, Ujiri will now become vice-chairman, a rarity for non-team owners. (Tanenbaum is also chairman of the board of the NBA, the first Canadian to hold that title). The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a vice-chairman. Brendan Shanahan holds the president and alternate governor titles for the Leafs, and Ujiri already held those titles on the Raptors side before his new deal.

The Raptors will officially see Lowry sign with the Miami Heat on Friday in a sign-and-trade.

Losing Ujiri too would have been an equally bitter pill for the Toronto fan base.

Instead, he will preside over a retool, mixing the existing solid core, which has championship-level experience, with up-and-coming talent like fourth overall draft selection Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent and Precious Achiuwa, who is the key return in the Lowry deal.

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