Masai Ujiri has a message for those who sit on the edge of their seat, hanging on every notification on their phones.
“The trade deadline is for [media; fans], to be honest,” said the Raptors president in his first comments after sitting on the sidelines for most of the February 8 deadline. “It’s a bunch of BS. Everybody thinks you are so busy, but really you are waiting on calls on your phone.
“It’s not that crazy in my opinion, but it can get crazy for like 15 minutes. That’s just the way it is. Everybody seems so tensed up, but it’s really not like that. If you’re involved in something and you’re working on it, then yes. Other than that, yesterday for like five hours we were quiet.”
The Raptors only move was trading away Bruno Caboclo, the 20th pick of the 2014 draft, to the Sacramento Kings for Malachi Richardson, the No.22 pick of the 2016 draft. Both players are still development projects, but Ujiri said trading Caboclo – a pending free agent – was an acknowledgement that his development was likely stalled here in Toronto as other young wing players passed him on the depth chart. Richardson projects as a cheap depth piece with some upside, a low risk move.
Other teams were taking wild risks at the deadline, specifically the Cleveland Cavaliers who shipped out six rotation players and a first-round pick to add four rotation players with an aim of shifting their trajectory from a team that has lost 13 out of their past 20 games and consistently been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA.
Ujiri says Cleveland’s burst of activity, doesn’t change his outlook on the Cavaliers’ prospects. The presence of James makes them a threat, regardless of their regular-season record or the talent surrounding him.
“In my opinion they still have one of the best players in the world and whether they had the old team or this team, I feel it’s the same,” Ujiri said. “He’s the constant. That’s the way I feel about it.”
The Raptors could get busier now even with the trade deadline in the rearview mirror as the focus shifts to the buyout market, where players seeking to get out of the remaining term on their contract have to do it by March 1 if they want to be eligible for the playoff roster of another team.
“This is the NBA and the reality of the NBA is we are built around chaos and drama,” said Ujiri. “We deal with it every day and more drama is coming.
“There is plenty more drama coming and we have to deal with it.”
There would be nothing more dramatic from a Raptors point of view than a reunion with Vince Carter, who is playing out the string on a one-year deal with the Sacramento Kings. Carter is one of several players that the Raptors have considered as a potential addition should they become available.
League rules prevent Ujiri from commenting on players still under contract with other teams, but the Raptors have been looking at a range of possibilities for weeks now, including the risks and rewards of repatriating Carter.
According to sources, the likelihood of the Raptors doing something with Carter has cooled somewhat – he’s judged best suited to an occasional role at this point, and depth isn’t among the Raptors short-list of issues at the moment. Given the choice, the Raptors would likely have more interest in Channing Frye — traded by Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers – as an example.
Toronto hasn’t zeroed in on one particular solution for a team that most would agree could use some additional perimeter threats and ideally, some recent playoff experience.
“We made a list yesterday, but I can’t tell you. I’m not allowed to mention names anyways, but it’s open,” Ujiri said. “I think there are going to be a couple of surprises. You never know and there are a couple of obvious names that are out there. We’ll see we’ll continue to discuss with our coaches and we’ll see what we need.”
Ujiri said that the Raptors won’t limit their search to NBA players and could look at players in Europe who might have NBA escape clauses in their deals.
But unlike a year ago when the Raptors were headed into the All-Star break having lost 11 of the previous 15 games with both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry advocating publicly for a shake up, the Raptors have benefitted this season from calm and continuity.
“The one thing I’ll say is it’s a process for us. I keep saying this and I know it’s old for everybody, but it’s a growing process,” said Ujiri. “We have to figure out how to fix as we go and some of these fixes are not immediate and there’s some impact on our team where, yes, you can get help and there’s sometimes where that help is not necessarily that positive. Between now and then I think we’ll make that judgment.”