Raptors GM Ujiri: DeRozan ‘knows he’s loved here’

Masai Ujiri joined Prime Time Sports to talk about the Raptors’ injury woes and if he thinks he team has a chance to re-sign DeMar DeRozan.

The subject of DeMar DeRozan’s impending free agency is a topic that’s picking up steam around the NBA and was given a boost during the wee hours of Thursday morning when a New York Post story came out saying the Brooklyn Nets “covet” the Toronto Raptors guard.

No matter how highly sought-after DeRozan is around the league, however, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri feels confident that he and his staff will be able to convince the Compton native just how “loved” he is in Toronto and stay.

“A new contract is what DeMar is going for and we feel we have a good shot,” Ujiri told Jeff Blair and Ken Reid on Sportsnet 590 the FAN’s Prime Time Sports on Thursday. “This is his team, this is a team that he knows very well, loves the city, is well-loved here, and we can offer him a year extra. There are so many things, so we feel comfortable.”

Specifically addressing that New York Post report, Ujiri merely shrugged it off, stating just how confident he is when it comes to DeRozan’s contract situation.

“We take whatever is written with a pinch of salt because, for me, until the reality comes we prepare ourselves,” he said. “Which is our job, to put our self in position to make the right decision when the time comes. …

“It might not go our way all the time, but 100 per cent we’ll be prepared, we’ll be ready and we’ll make him feel like he belongs here. …

“DeMar knows exactly how much we love him. I talk to his agent probably once a week, at least, to catch up on different things, but there’s nothing we’ve missed out on. We’re very precise and very prepared with how we work and he knows he’s loved here.”

Armed with a player option for next season, DeRozan is expected to opt out of his current deal at the end of this season, where he will likely command a max contract.

DeRozan has played his entire seven-season career in Toronto and is one of the best players in the franchise’s history, ranking fourth in total games played and third on the team’s all-time scoring list.

This season he’s among the league’s top scorers, averaging 22.6 points per game, and is doing it mostly by getting to the free-throw line with his third-best average of 8.4 attempts per game.

He was last named the all-star team in 2014, but given how well he’s played this season, Ujiri believes he and his backcourt running mate Kyle Lowry should definitely get some all-star consideration, despite Lowry and DeRozan sitting third and sixth after the second returns of all-star balloting.

“In my opinion we have two all-stars on our basketball team in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan,” Ujiri said. “We’re unlucky that DeMarre [Carroll] went through these injuries and Jonas [Valanciunas] kind of missed the timeframe, because I thought at the beginning of the season he was playing like an all-star-to-be, but we’ve got two all-stars on our team, to-be, which we’re excited about.”

Carroll’s most recent injury was also a topic that came up. Ujiri couldn’t offer anything other than the estimated 6-8 week timeframe for his big free-agent acquisition and is also hoping someone internally rises to the occasion to help the Raptors through this span because a trade likely isn’t in the cards.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Go find a guy and make a trade,’ but you can’t trade the guy that’s injured, which is the position you probably need something in, so it’s not that easy and that’s when players have to step up.”

One such player the Raptors GM mentioned was James Johnson.

“There’s no other choice, he has to get better, particularly if we want to win. He’s done it in the past, he’s done it in spurts, he’s done it for a few games and he has a real opportunity now for him to grow as a player, and I think he’s gonna jump on that opportunity.”

Johnson started in place of Carroll in the Raptors win over the Nets on Wednesday, scoring eight points, with five rebounds and two blocks.

Toronto’s next game is Friday against the Washington Wizards. You can catch the game live at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE.

You can listen to Ujiri’s full appearance on Prime Time Sports here.