It required five postseasons without a name before Masai Ujiri had seen enough.
The Toronto Raptors had tapped out with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry anchoring the backcourt. In five seasons from 2013-14 into 2017-18, the Raptors won more regular-season games than any other Eastern Conference team, but the Raptors watched more first-round exits compared to trips to the Eastern Conference finalsrather than reaching the NBA Finals.
And therefore, last July, Ujiri made his move. The Raptors traded DeRozan — the top scorer in franchise history at the peak of his career — combined with Jakob Poeltl along with a top-20 shielded 2019 first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs to get Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and money considerations. The Lowry-DeRozan backcourt was divided, the athlete of the Year Dwane Casey was let go after seven seasons, and a new era in Toronto had begun.
The results have, so far, been positive. Despite Leonard lost about a quarter of the year, the Raptors currently have greater championship odds than they did at this time last year. As such, the home run of Ujiri put the rest of the league on notice. If DeRozan is not secure, who’s? Just like Miami’s Big Three sparked the age of participant bureau, the Raptors could have broken the seal for other perennial underachievers to follow suit.
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