Jones: Ujiri a good fit in Toronto

Masai Ujiri will be introduced as the Raptors' general manager Tuesday morning.

We will know sometime on Monday what name is inside the envelope at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.

It seems now with all the chatter around NBA circles that Bryan Colangelo may no longer be the man running basketball operations in Toronto, but one of his former chief lieutenants, Masai Ujiri, may be next in line to try and help put the team back into the playoffs and move them further up the NBA ladder.

Ujiri is the reigning NBA Executive of the Year and has helped make the Denver Nuggets a viable contender. If he were to be hired in Toronto it would be a good fit for a number of reasons.

He has worked in Toronto and knows not only the NBA landscape but also the challenges facing the club as the only team located outside the U.S. With the exception of new CEO Tim Leiweke and a few of the new board members, he is intimately familiar with the organization. But above all else, Ujiri has become well respected around the NBA and does his job well.

If Ujiri were to come on board there would be some semblance of stability as the team has made strides and improved the last couple of seasons. The improvement has just not been fast enough to get them into the playoffs or satisfy the MLSE board to the degree they would pick up the final year of Colangelo’s contract and have him remain as general manager. It’s entirely possible that Ujiri could retain Casey with the coach’s option having been picked up at the end of the lockout-shortened season in 2012. There would be added continuity with scouting and front office personnel and the let’s-look-and-see-what-we-have period would be much shorter than that of a new general manager.

To make the transition even easier, Ujiri would still have the ear of Hall of Fame senior advisor, Wayne Embry. Should someone new be hired, it would take a while to get all the “right” people in place and the possibility of the team taking a step backward would increase greatly.

According to reports, the Nigerian-born general manager of the Nuggets is one of the lowest paid executives and if Denver is not going to compensate him to the same degree as MLSE, he could return to Toronto and be handsomely compensated. As an aside, Ujiri worked with the Nuggets before being hired by Colangelo. Familiarity with the Denver market had to have been a bonus in helping to turn the team’s fortunes around and you would think the same would be true in Toronto.

Ujiri has been praised for his handling of the Carmelo Anthony situation a year after leaving Toronto and watching the Chris Bosh debacle unfold. In truth, it would have been easier on the entire Raptors organization had Bosh been truthful and told them, similar to what Anthony did in Denver, “I’m out when my contract is done.” Ujiri secured a solid package of players for the Nuggets and with subsequent moves has helped them move forward.

Finally, what becomes of Bryan Colangelo? Is there a job for him in Toronto outside of running the team? Since it has taken such a long time for a decision to be made on his future in Toronto, he has certainly missed out on other opportunities. The right thing for MLSE may be to pick up his option for the year and find him a role with the organization that can help the team and give him time to look for another basketball opportunity if things don’t work out in Toronto.

In the end, the adage what’s old is new and what’s new is old fits here should MLSE decide that Ujiri is the right man for the job.

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