His job is to improve his team, which means it’s very likely that Masai Ujiri will let Thursday’s NBA trade deadline come and go without doing anything to alter the fabric of his 36-17 club.
But most of all that means staying patient with Terrence Ross, the gifted wing player who has so often looked a step behind as the rest of the Raptors have taken flight this season.
Ujiri is aware of the speculation swirling in the imagination of fans and even some rival executives about a package including Ross and the expiring contracts of little-used Landry Fields and Chuck Hayes that could yield a veteran big to round out the team’s front court rotation.
David West of the Indiana Pacers is the name that has been bold-printed most often.
The only problem with those scenarios — fanciful or not — is that Ujiri sees the 24-year-old as the kind of player his team needs, rather than one that should be moved along.
“I would be shocked if we did something with Terrence,” Ujiri said Tuesday night. “Trust me. I can’t tell you more how I totally don’t think that would happen before Thursday.”
It’s not that Ujiri is entirely enamoured with Ross’s play of late: He was removed from the starting lineup on Jan 19 and has regressed slightly both offensively and defensively this season.
But Ujiri remains confident that Ross can provide what every team in the NBA needs: an athletic wing player who can stretch defences and who can guard their own position and perhaps one more. They’re hard to find, so Ujiri is loath to send Ross away for the crime of only doing it in spurts so far in his young career.
“How many guys on our team can raise up and make a shot with someone in their face, like Terrence? They aren’t many in the league,” said Ujiri. “He’s had lapses on defence but that’s something you grow out of with experience. He is really a two-way player; he has ability to stay in front of guys, he can hit a shot; he’s athletic as hell and he can hit threes. Every team is looking for players like that.
“We’re trying to get those kinds of players. We’re trying to develop Bruno [Caboclo] to be a defender, a three-point shooter and athletic and look how long it’s going to take to get him to be half of what Terrence is?”
It’s not that Ujiri hasn’t made calls and taken calls. Just two weeks ago he was on Tim & Sid on the The Fan 590 telling everyone that would listen that “he was open for business.” And he’ll remain open until the deadline comes and goes at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
If someone has a proposal, he’ll listen. And it only makes sense that he’s inquired about some of the big men that are on the market.
But he keeps returning to a few key facts: His team is good — perhaps not as good as their record suggest — but still very good. And it’s still relatively young. In the absence of a deal that is makes so much sense he can’t afford not to do it, why mess with a good thing?
“We’re a young, good team. I don’t think we’re that great of a team, but we’re learning how to play and how to win so we have to give them that opportunity,” said Ujiri. “Do we have holes? Yes, but I don’t think now is the time to get desperate to fill them.
“We’re second in the East, we’re 19 games above .500. That’s not too shabby.”
And while Ujiri knows that it’s his job to figure out how to beat teams like the Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies – the top three teams in the NBA at the moment – he is also aware that each of those teams can count continuity among their most significant assets.
“With DeMar [DeRozan] in the lineup we’re 24-9. That’s pretty good,” says Ujiri. “He’s been a little inconsistent (offensively) but he’s helped us stabilize our defence and that’s the benefit of continuity and a player being in the system.
“His numbers don’t blow you away, but now he’s affecting winning and that comes from having consistency as a team and being part of a program.”
For all the assets that a general manager can try and barter for at the trade deadline, continuity and consistency aren’t among them, regardless of price.