Process. That’s the adjective that best describes the Toronto Raptors efforts to ink Masai Ujiri as the franchise’s next general manager.
As in: there is one; it’s underway and — perhaps frustratingly for those who like things in neat, tidy boxes — it doesn’t have a specific end date or a definite conclusion.
But chances are a decision is still at least a couple of days away, and the timing may stretch into the early part of next week, at which point the Raptors would be expected to push hard for some finality, one way or the other.
In the meantime there has been no urgency on either side, with all three parties — the Raptors, Nuggets and Ujiri — accepting a slower timeline.
According to NBA sources contacted by Sportsnet, the Denver Nuggets executive met with Denver president Josh Kroenke on Wednesday and is weighing a lucrative offer from Toronto for five years with a value an ESPN report pegged at $15 million.
It’s a considerable raise from the three-year deal worth about $1.5 million he is finishing up in Denver. The Nuggets have made a counteroffer but it’s not clear it’s nearly as valuable as the deal the Raptors are willing to provide.
But the meeting on Wednesday was just one step along the path that very well could end up with the Raptors landing a respected former employee and the NBA’s reigning Executive of the Year to anchor a new-look basketball operation. It was an important step, but not the last one. Ujiri met with incoming MLSE president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke in Denver on Friday where the Nigerian-born executive was offered the job with the Raptors opened up when Bryan Colangelo was relieved of his duties as general manager last week.
Ujiri is described by those who know him as meticulous, such that even if he has a strong feeling about what his next move will be, he won’t execute it until he’s walked through all the issues at hand. And he won’t confirm his decision until he’s had a chance to meet in person with the various stakeholders.
“It’s a life-changing decision,” said one league source of the situation. “And knowing him, if he leaves he’ll take his time and do it the right way.”
When Ujiri left the Raptors to join the Denver Nuggets in August 2010, the timing was awkward because he’d just signed a three-year contract with Toronto to continue as assistant general manager alongside then president and general manager Colangelo.
The Nuggets had interviewed him previously but had settled on David Griffin but failed to come to an agreement with the former Phoenix Suns assistant general manager.
When they failed to close that deal they came back to Ujiri. Before he would confirm he was taking the job he visited with MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and president and CEO Richard Peddie.
“He’s a very authentic guy, a high-character guy and that’s why we liked him,” said Peddie, who is now retired from MLSE. “In sports my philosophy was always to never stand in the way of someone getting a better job – an assistant coach going to head coach, for example. We weren’t going to stand in his way, but he was such a smart, decent guy we wanted to keep him.”
In the end they didn’t, and the way Ujiri conducted himself on his way out the door is one factor explaining why the Raptors are so eager to have him back, and why he won’t return – if he does -- until he goes through the same process in Denver.