Masai Ujiri: ‘Thought of losing Lowry doesn’t stress me out’

Raptors President Masai Ujiri joins the show to discuss Kyle Lowry's impending free-agency, the team's disappointing playoff run and why the team needs to change their style of play moving forward.

One of the biggest questions looming over the Toronto Raptors’ off-season is whether or not Kyle Lowry will return.

A number of teams, including the 76ers and the Lakers, have been rumoured to be interested in the point guard, who opted out of his contract with Toronto.

Asked whether the thought of losing Lowry in the off-season stresses him out, though, Toronto Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri didn’t hesitate.

“No, to be honest, it doesn’t,” he said when he joined Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid on Thursday.

Ujiri explained that losing Lowry wouldn’t feel good, but it’s all part of the process. And whether or not Lowry ends up back with the Raptors, Ujiri’s off-season task remains the same: figuring out the shape of next year’s team, and how to improve on this year’s disappointment.

“What’s my job? My job is to make it happen,” he said of bringing Lowry back. “Or my job is to figure it out, if it doesn’t happen, where we go from here.”

Ujiri added that he last met with Lowry on Wednesday. “Kyle has decisions to make,” he said. “We have decisions to make.”

After getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of this year’s NBA Playoffs, the Raptors, led by Ujiri, are looking for ways to make next year different. The 46-year-old said Toronto can’t simply continue a pattern of being almost but not quite good enough.

The really hard part will be figuring out how to beat Cleveland. Ujiri was asked whether the LeBron James–led Cavaliers can ever be beaten—a question he gets asked a lot, and which he hates.

“My answer is yes,” Ujiri said. “Why can’t they be beat? Absolutely. What is our job? I should quit if I don’t believe that—and I truly believe it.”

Ujiri got fired up as his answer continued.

“If not, why are they wasting money paying me here? Every day I don’t sleep thinking about that. I don’t sleep. And everybody that’s playing against them shouldn’t be sleeping thinking about that. If not, then let [James] play in the NBA by himself. And let there be only two teams in the NBA. Then why are we here? Our job is to compete and beat them. Yeah, you got me upset. I don’t want to—I hate losing to those guys. I hate it. It drives me crazy.”

Ujiri said he will try, this off-season, to figure out how the team can come back stronger. Part of that work includes a “culture reset,” which he first spoke about in his season wrap-up session with the media.

The need for a reset, Ujiri said, comes from wanting more than mediocre results in the playoffs. “The goal is to win the championship,” he said.

After the disappointment in this year’s playoffs, there was speculation that Raptors coach Dwane Casey might be on his way out. But Ujiri reiterated what he’s stated before, that Casey is fully capable of pulling off the kind of culture reset he feels the team needs.

Ujiri added that while he used the term “culture reset,” he isn’t planning a massive upheaval in approach or style. But the way the team has played simply hasn’t worked, so some changes are needed.

“I’m not saying that we are going to change completely to the way another team plays or copy another team, I’m just saying that what we’ve done for the last four years, we’ve run into trouble a couple times here and there, in the way we’ve done things,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to do those things better and change the things that haven’t worked.”