TORONTO — Masai Ujiri believes that change has to start at the top. That includes him, the Toronto Raptors team president.
Ujiri was insistent that the Raptors have to refresh their culture after a disappointing season led to the firing of head coach Nick Nurse on Friday. Ujiri said that he personally has to do “many things” to recapture the energy of Toronto’s first NBA championship team in 2019.
“Look at the roster maybe in a different way. We have to figure out shooting on this roster in some kind of way. We have to figure out who fits and who doesn’t fit,” said Ujiri during a news conference after Nurse’s dismissal was announced. “On the overall, maybe manage people better.
“Maybe see things a little bit deeper because when we hire people I let them do their jobs. That’s been a strength of ours the last 10 years here but I pay attention now a little bit more.”
Toronto missed the playoffs and finished ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 41-41 regular-season record, losing to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA play-in tournament. Ujiri said the Raptors were not themselves this season and that Toronto’s winning culture of four years ago somehow got lost.
Rebuilding that culture will take some major changes, said Ujiri.
“You have to shock, you have to hit, there has to be some kind of friction some way to do that,” said Ujiri. “I think we follow the culture of an incredible city, people, humility, everything we stand for here, togetherness.
“We lost some of that but I don’t think it’s something you cannot build right back up again.”
Nurse relied heavily on five or six players all season, with all-star forward Pascal Siakam leading the NBA with 37.4 minutes played per game. Veteran point guard Fred VanVleet (36.7) and O.G. Anunoby (35.6) were sixth and 17th in minutes played, respectively.
That reliance on more experienced players meant that Toronto’s young players didn’t get a lot of time against NBA-level competition. Ujiri said he was not happy with the ongoing development of younger players like centre Christian Koloko, forwards Ron Harper Jr., and Precious Achiuwa, or guards Malachi Flynn and Dalano Banton, who is from Toronto.
“Obviously some of them played more than the others,” said Ujiri, adding that Koloko probably got the most experience of the younger cohort this season. “One of the things we talked about was maybe utilizing some of these players a little bit more.
“Giving them room to actually show if they have it or if they don’t have it. I think we didn’t do so well with that this year. I think that hurt us some in developing our young players.”
One thing Ujiri doesn’t want to touch is the locker-room leadership of Siakam or VanVleet. He said Siakam had an “all-NBA season” and that once VanVleet got healthy he did well.
“We just have to figure out how all of that fits with our team going forward,” said Ujiri. “Those guys have been good for our club and they bring us that experience of what we’ve gone through before.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press