Masai Ujiri has certainly made a big splash as general manager of the Toronto Raptors.
After only a month on the job, Ujiri has already completed the task that almost every Raptors fan wanted to see, the disposal of Andrea Bargnani – even if it was to a division rival.
Throw in the fact former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo stepped down from his position as the team’s president and you can safely say the previous regime’s reign is officially over and the Ujiri era has arrived.
Inspired by Ujiri’s big move, sportsnet.ca takes a look back at the history of general managers with the Raptors, highlighting the best moves and most egregious blunders that each has made over the years.
When “Zeke” first ripped through the Raptors banner 19 years ago to introduce himself to the Toronto media, hope was abundant as Thomas was a respected figure in the league (at the time). As part owner of the club he had an interest to grow the business side and as a general manager to compete for a championship one day.
Well, as history showed, Thomas’ wallet couldn’t keep up with the demands of the franchise and he resigned. Despite how all of his ownership woes shook down, he’ll always be remembered for what he did as the team’s GM.
Most would think this would come down to one of the three famous draft choices that Thomas made for the club, but Thomas’ best move came in the fashion of a seemingly innocuous trade in mid-February with the New York Knicks that saw Toronto acquire Doug Christie for Victor Alexander.
Christie would go on to become a key contributor and defensive stalwart on the perimeter for the Raptors during their best years, while Alexander never played a single game for the Knicks.
Hindsight is 20-20, but in 1996 Toronto missed on the best talent in the draft.
The Raps had the second-overall pick and used it to select Marcus Camby, a good choice at the time as Camby was viewed upon as a franchise centre but remaining on the board from this legendary draft were names like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Ray Allen.
Other notable moves
Drafting Damon Stoudamire (1995), Camby (1996) and Tracy McGrady (1997).
Popularly viewed as the Raptors best GM, Grunwald was the man who orchestrated the construction of the most beloved Raptors teams before being fired in 2004 after missing the playoffs twice in a row after three consecutive post-season trips.
This was a tough call to make as Grunwald was behind a multitude of moves that are still cast in a warm nostalgic glow.
However, in the end everything about the Grunwald era begins with that move on draft night in 1998 when he traded the rights to the No. 4 pick in the draft, Antawn Jamison, for one Vincent Lamar Carter, who Golden State drafted fifth overall.
Say what you will about Carter’s exit from the Big Smoke, but it’s undeniable that he transformed the franchise and Grunwald’s acquisition of him is probably the Raptors’ most significant move ever.
As great a job that Grunwald did, he certainly wasn’t immune to slip-ups.
In fact he made quite a few, but the one that stood out was a move that was originally praised and brought one of the most popular Raptors to Toronto – Charles Oakley.
During the 1998 off-season, Grunwald traded Camby to the Knicks for Oakley because he felt the team needed a veteran voice – very true at the time. However, seeing the player that Camby ended up becoming, this trade was definitely a big mistake.
The trade that marked Stoudamire’s departure and Alvin Williams’ arrival (1998). The deal that brought in Antonio Davis (1999). Signing Dell Curry (1999). Drafting Morris Peterson (2000). Losing McGrady in free agency (2000). Trading for Jerome Williams (2001). The drafting of Chris Bosh (2003). The six-player trade that marked the departure of Davis and Williams and Donyell Marshall and Jalen Rose’s arrival (2003).
For all the goodwill Raptors fans show Grunwald, Babcock receives an equal amount (and more) seething hatred from the fan base.
This vitriol isn’t without merit as Babcock was responsible for some of the most head-scratching moves in the franchise’s tumultuous history.
Before trying to pick through the errors he made, we’ll praise Babcock for making one of the most significant moves in the club’s more recent history.
In the summer of 2005, Babcock signed little-known Spanish point guard Jose Calderon.
Calderon struggled early in his career, but he eventually became one of Toronto’s best players, becoming a part of the illustrious 50-40-90 club in the 2007-2008 season and setting the single-season free-throw percentage record (98 per cent) in the same year.
The list of Babcock’s blunders isn’t the longest but they’re all painful. The move that remains the most notorious is the Vince Carter trade.
While it’s true Carter wanted out of town, appearing to be underperforming to force the move, the haul that Babcock pulled in for the superstar was the real shocker, as both the trading partner and the assets enraged fans.
The full deal was Carter to the New Jersey Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first-round draft picks.
Everything about the deal stunk from the Raptors’ perspective. Trading the franchise’s best player to a division rival was bad enough, but it was compounded with how poor the two Williams were and the draft picks ended up becoming Joey Graham and a trade chip.
The Mourning situation was probably the worst, as he was the best player coming from the deal and refused to report in Toronto, citing an injury. Babcock was forced to buy out Mourning’s contract with the team and he eventually signed with the Miami Heat.
Drafting Rafael Araujo (2004). Signing Alston to a multi-year deal (2004). Drafting Graham (2005). Drafting Charlie Villanueva (2005).
When Embry took the interim GM job, the franchise was at an all-time low but thanks to a few crafty moves he made in the one month he had the job, the Hall of Famer managed to re-energize the fans and is remembered in the role dearly.
Embry managed to clear a ton of cap space for the incoming Colangelo when he traded Jalen Rose, the second first-round pick the Raptors received in the Carter trade and some cash to the Knicks for a short Antonio Davis return to Toronto.
This move ended up being brilliant as New York wasted the pick on Renaldo Balkman and Colangelo effectively used the cap space to bring in some of the key cogs that won the franchise’s only division title.
Due to how short he was actually in the GM chair for, Embry didn’t make any mistakes.
Other notable moves
Trading Aaron Williams to New Orleans for a pair of second-rounders (2006).
A polarizing figure amongst Raptors fans, Colangelo gambled his way into both success and failure with the club.
Like Grunwald, Colangelo sat in the GM chair for seven years and his list of transactions is long and storied. Unlike Grunwald, Colangelo didn’t start strong and tail off. His track record, by comparison, is all over the place as he seemed to always follow up a good move with a questionable one.
Even though this was only possible because of the work Embry did before him, Colangelo still deserves a ton of credit for his off-season shopping spree in 2006 that brought in Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbrajosa. These two players were a big reason why the team managed to win the Atlantic Division in 2007.
Had Garbrajosa not suffered a horrific freak injury in 2007 or not gone against the Raptors wishes to skip playing in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, history could have been much different for the Raps and Colangelo.
This was a tough one but in the end we decided to on the Jermaine O’Neal trade to the Miami Heat.
There was nothing about this deal that went right for the Raptors. Beginning with how the team first acquired the veteran centre. Toronto gave up the 17th pick in the 2008 draft, which happened to be Roy Hibbert, to get O’Neal.
To make matters worse, O’Neal played just 41 games for the club as injuries plagued his season. As a result, Colangelo decided to flip O’Neal to Miami for a package that included Shawn Marion’s expiring contract.
This is where the finishing blow is dealt.
The Raptors ended up using the extra cap space provided from Marion’s expired deal to sign Hedo Turkoglu, one of the worst free agent signings in Raptors history, while the Heat made the playoffs with O’Neal in the lineup and, in the subsequent year, used the money coming off their books from O’Neal’s contract to help them team Dwyane Wade up with LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
In other words, if Colangelo doesn’t make this move, Miami isn’t the team it is today.
Trading Araujo for Kris Humphries (2006). The drafting of Bargnani (2006). TradingVillanueva for T.J. Ford (2006). Signing Jason Kapono (2007). Trading Ford and the rights to Hibbert for O’Neal (2008). Extending Calderon (2008). Drafting DeMar DeRozan (2009). Extending Bargnani (2009). Signing Hedo Turkoglu (2009). The trade that of Delfino to Milwaukee for Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems (2009). Letting Bosh go to Miami in a sign-and trade (2010). Trading Turkoglu. (2010). Signing Linas Kleiza (2010). Drafting Jonas Valanciunas (2011). Drafting Terrence Ross (2012). Signing Landry Fields (2012). Trading for Kyle Lowry (2012). The extension of DeRozan (2012). The six-player, three-team trade that marked Calderon and Ed Davis’s departure and Rudy Gay’s arrival (2012).