It took five postseasons without a name before Masai Ujiri had seen sufficient.
The Toronto Raptors had tapped out, with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry anchoring the backcourt. In five seasons out of 2013-14 to 2017-18, the Raptors won more regular-season matches than another Eastern Conference team, but the Raptors saw more first-round exits than trips to the Eastern Conference finalsrather than reaching the NBA Finals.
And last July, Ujiri forced his move. The Raptors traded DeRozan — the top scorer in franchise history at the peak of his career — along with Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick into the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and cash considerations. The Lowry-DeRozan backcourt was broken up, the athlete of the Year Dwane Casey was let go after seven seasons, and a new age in Toronto had started.
The outcomes have, up to now, been positive. Despite Leonard missing about a quarter of this year, the Raptors currently have better championship odds than they did at this time this past year. Therefore, Ujiri’s home run effectively put the rest of the league on notice. If DeRozan is not safe, who is? The same as Miami’s Big Three sparked the era of participant bureau, the Raptors could have broken the seal to other perennial underachievers to follow suit.
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