Raptors’ Ujiri: We need a culture change

Raptors president Masai Ujiri thinks it’s BS that he has to talk two days after losing in the 2nd round, as he can’t tell the media anything really, or he’d be a bad leader.

TORONTO — A 51-win season and a second-round appearance in the post-season wasn’t good enough for Masai Ujiri.

And now the Toronto Raptors need a "culture reset," the team president said, after a post-season that ended in a second-round sweep and saw them looking a "little wide-eyed" against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ujiri will spend the coming weeks evaluating all facets of the franchise, but what he knows right now is that the Raptors’ style of play, which got them to playoffs in four consecutive seasons, isn’t working anymore and needs to change. And he hopes that change comes with Kyle Lowry on board.

"It’s our job to try and get Kyle to come back and do it the best way that we possibly can," Ujiri said. "We want him back, he has been a huge part of the success here."

The three-time all-star point guard will opt out of the final season of his contract and become a free agent on July 1, and gave no hints Tuesday as to his plans.

Speaking to reporters a day after the Raptors cleaned out their lockers, Ujiri called the Cleveland series disappointing, saying "I sometimes feel like that wasn’t our team that we saw out there."

"We are going to hold everybody accountable because we need to. We need to figure it out."

Ujiri, who’d just come from a long morning meeting with coach Dwane Casey, pinpointed the team’s one-on-one playing style.

"Because we’ve done what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked," Ujiri said. "It’s easy to defend in my opinion when you play one-on-one. It’s predictable, we feel we have to go in another direction. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it will be the new thing in the league that wins.

"We’re trying to be progressive thinkers, and not just continue to pound, pound, pound on something that hasn’t worked."

Ujiri said there "is commitment" to Casey, who is one season into a three-year contract worth $18 million, and noted the coach had a tough job trying to meld all the pieces after February’s acquisition of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, especially considering Lowry missed 21 straight games after having wrist surgery.

"I think there are times that I think coach did a great job and I think there are times that we struggled," Ujiri said.

It’s difficult to gauge, he added, how successful the team might have been had Lowry had more time to gel with the newcomers.

Ujiri scoffed when asked if he could keep both Casey and Lowry, saying talk of the two butting heads had been blown out of proportion.

"Last year 56 (wins), this year 51. So they should hold hands and sing hurrah and kiss, and we win 30 games? What the hell is that doing for anybody? Nothing. Zero," he said. "Some point guards are like that, tough-minded point guards. Tough-minded coaches are like that."

The Raptors have four free agents in Lowry, Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson, and — like a domino effect — many of the big decisions in the next few weeks depends on who stays and who goes.

Ujiri said he’ll lay out numerous scenarios for the team’s ownership. He said the owners are "100 per cent" OK with spending the money required.

And he’s not opposed to rebuilding, if necessary.

"We have to find a way to motivate people, we have to find a way to motivate fans, we have to find a way to play hard on the court, and we have to find a way to find the right talent, to make sure that we’re creating a sense of hope in this organization," Ujiri said. "And no, we’re not afraid of that at all. Because it might be the right way to go, you never know."

The culture shift will see him aim the magnifying glass at virtually every part of the organization.

"We have done things here for four years and we have had a level of success but how do you take it to another level is what I’m talking about. We have to dig deep into everything we do. And I’m talking scouting, I’m talking our medical department, I’m talking everything," he said. "I think we are on a good scale in the NBA, but how do you get better? We can’t just pinpoint coaching. We can’t just pinpoint not making shots. Our attitude, our leadership, everything. The way we work together.

"I think those things we need to re-visit and then get on with it."

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