Boasting a 42-16 record heading into their final game before the all-star break, the Toronto Raptors are likely feeling good about where they stand.
And if team president Masai Ujiri is to be believed, they should be feeling the same in regards to their biggest task off the hardwood as well.
Ujiri conveyed confidence the Raptors have done a good job of convincing Kawhi Leonard to stick around longer than just this one season while appearing on Prime Time Sports Wednesday evening.
“Kawhi’s a grown man, he’s going to decide what he wants to do, but I believe just from getting to know Kawhi very, very well that he will make the right decision,” Ujiri said.
Getting to have Leonard on the team for a year is better than a one-hour presentation if they were pursuing him in free agency, Ujiri said.
He said Toronto is going to do everything they can to show Leonard it’s the right organization.
“He sees who we are and he sees the organization that we are and I think there’s a lot of upside to that,” Ujiri said.
Part of this confidence from Ujiri stems from the controversial “load management” the Raptors have allowed Leonard, who has only appeared in 43 of a possible 58 games this season. He was once again given a night off Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.
Ujiri said keeping Leonard rested was a key aspect for the Raps when they first acquired the forward.
“It was important for us and our plan and our program, and now we’re just executing,” Ujiri said. “This is [Raptors assistant and director of sports science] Alex McKechnie along with other people who have helped us with this whole process.
“And I tell fans, I know you want to see him every game, but the guy had an injury last year, we had to take precaution and we had to do the necessary things to help him recover not in one game, not in one month. The goal is the playoffs, the goal is, ‘How do we compete at the end?’ And I think these guys are taking the right measures.”
Methods that Ujiri and the Raptors are hoping will convince the superstar to remain in Toronto, regardless where Leonard decides to buy property, which Ujiri says is a total non-factor in regards to Leonard’s decision this summer.
“I think regardless where he plays he was going to get this place. That was explained to me and I’m feeling happy and confident with the explanation.”
Leonard wasn’t the only topic Ujiri discussed with Prime Time Sports hosts Bob McCown and Richard Deitsch Wednesday. The following are some other notable areas of discussion:
In regards to Chris Bosh’s comments about Toronto unable to sign free agents
“All I can say is there’s going to come a time when this thing is going to evolve and there are a lot of international players – global players, American players, Canadian players – there are all kinds that are going to have interest in this program. That’s just what time does, that’s what life does.
“I don’t live in the time when I worked here as assistant GM, I don’t live in the time when Chris Bosh was here. I learned from those opportunities and I learned from that time, but this time is now. …
“We’re going to try every means, any how to bring players here. Whether it’s drafting, whether it’s trading or finding free agents. So I really don’t know about the time of what Chris Bosh was talking about and I don’t want to talk about players on other teams, but I am confident and I know that there are players in the future that would want to come and play here.
“I’m very confident that there are players who want to come and play for our franchise because if you don’t think that way then we shouldn’t be in this business. If we’re not preparing for that then I shouldn’t be here. If we’re not confident about that then we shouldn’t be here. We should be confident as a country, we should be confident as a team, as a city. … We should be confident in who we are here and maybe for Chris Bosh if he was here in this time he would be attracting more free agents here because maybe the team would be better.”
What Jeremy Lin will bring to the Raptors?
“When looking at the prospect of a Jeremy Lin we all talk about him from years before, but I think he game has really evolved into a steady guard who can shoot, who can create, with the opportunity to have him as the third point guard. I think, with this signing, it’s a little over-blown. It’s almost as if he’s coming to be the starting point guard just because of the name.
“I think he fits in the role we’re bringing him in and I think the most important aspect is we have a guy with unique experience coming to play as the third point guard.”
Why Lin and Marc Gasol will help Raptors
“We felt like these were the kind of people that could maybe help us. Sometimes these things are on paper and you hope that can actually transfer to the basketball court, but we know who Gasol is, we know who Jeremy Lin is. The problem with trade-deadline moves is chemistry, is fitting together and timing and that’s the price you pay, maybe.
“But in terms of adding these guys, at least you know what you’re getting. We feel comfortable that that we know what we’re getting. We’re getting experienced guys, we’re getting high-basketball IQ guys, we’re getting tough guys, we’re getting guys who are good leaders on our team and add additional leadership and an additional sense of responsibility.”
Do the Raptors need to add additional three-point shooting?
“It’s unfortunate that with Kyle’s back and with C.J. Miles struggles. We have three-point shooters: Marc can shoot, Jeremy Lin can shoot, Kawhi can shoot, Norman Powell can shoot, Serge Ibaka can shoot. So people are saying, ‘Shooters, shooters, shooters.’ We have all these players that can actually shoot the ball but we’ve gone through phases when sometimes we haven’t done it so well. …
“So, for us, we feel like when Kyle starts to get back to full health it’s going to help that and I think Serge will shoot better and guys like Marc and Jeremy will help – Kawhi has helped, Fred is a good three-point shooter. So we can go on and on with every name and we’ve made sure that at least these guys are good three-point shooters and you hope that they hit form as you go.”
Do the Raptors plan to continue to add in the buyout market?
“We’ve signed three now and we have one more roster spot open. I think we’re going to be flexible with that roster spot. I think everybody’s getting anxious now because the deadline for the buyout market is March 1 – you have to be waived by March 1 to play in the playoffs in the NBA.
“My guess is that there will be a few more teams that will probably not be in the race three weeks from now and maybe there will be more names there.”