Raptors’ Masai Ujiri: ‘I have a great relationship with Kawhi’


Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard, left to right, sits alongside Raptors President Masai Ujiri and Danny Green at a press conference during media day in Toronto on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. (Chris Young/CP)

Such are the strange sports-less times we live in that a lot of sports writing we’re seeing these days have to do with a speculative nature.

Well here’s a “What if” scenario for you: What if Kawhi Leonard were to make his way back to the Toronto Raptors?

Sounds crazy, right?

But in a recent interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson on the official NBA Twitter account, Raptors president Masai Ujiri revealed a much deeper relationship with Leonard than many, perhaps, once thought was there.

Midway through the wide-ranging conversation, Ujiri’s son, Masai Jr., briefly crashed the party which prompted Johnson to jokingly ask, “So this is the guy who’s gonna marry Kawhi Leonard’s daughter someday, correct?”

Ujiri went along with joke, but actually revealed a little more about his personal connection with Leonard.

“By the way, [Masai Jr.] was on FaceTime with [Leonard’s daughter] yesterday,” Ujiri said laughing. “I’m serious. I have a great relationship with Kawhi, but my wife and Kishele [Shipley, Leonard’s girlfriend] have a really, really close relationship and [Masai Jr.] talks to [Leonard’s daughter] every now and then.”

The business of basketball oftentimes gets in the way of building and keeping relationships, but it would appear that Ujiri has managed to keep a strong bond with Leonard and his family, even as Leonard decided to leave in free agency last summer.

“I always say that the two hardest things in our business is trading a player and then when a player leaves,” said Ujiri. “It’s hard on both sides. Like when a player’s traded it’s hard on the player’s side and when a player leaves it’s hard on that side.

“I’ve experienced all of it and it’s been with wonderful people. And it’s sometimes put a restraint on relationships as we saw with DeMar and – people don’t know – but even with Rudy Gay because I was close to Rudy. You’re trying to preach a culture of good, of trust, of being with people. And then you have to make these decisions.

“With Kawhi, we just built a relationship where we trusted each other and that friendship has evolved even bigger as he left and I’m proud of that. I support him with everything he does as a human being and with his family and you move on. You’ve just got to move on and go on to the next.”

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Could that “next” possibly be a reunion with Leonard?

Following this season – when/if it resumes – Leonard’s contract figures to expire next summer as he has a player option for the 2021-22 season.

It might seem unrealistic now to think that Leonard would want to leave his home state and a good Los Angeles Clippers team after just two seasons – especially after he appeared to make a ton of effort to finally land in L.A. – but a lot can happen between now and the summer of 2021 in the insane world of NBA player movement.

Should Leonard become a free agent then and, for some reason, look for a change of scenery, this bond Ujiri and cultivated could end up playing a factor.

Anything’s possible, right?


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