Yesterday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a 59-minute podcast where he interviewed Masai Ujiri, going through all that went on this summer. Masai is always a pleasure to listen to, and his extended chat with Woj was no exception. Those looking to listen to the podcast can do so here.
Unfortunately for those looking for huge bits of Kawhi news, there weren’t many bombs dropped on the pod. Still, it was a great listen. Here is a recap of what was talked about:
Woj was really pushing the idea of it being difficult for Ujiri to negotiate with RC Buford, with whom Masai has a personal relationship. Masai agreed but said that the Spurs were a pleasure to deal with. The deal was almost completed several different times and almost came to a halt several other times, but eventually, both sides walked away happy.
When asked if it was difficult to complete the deal all the way from Africa, Masai shrugged the question off, saying “the cell phone is an incredible machine” and thanking Raptors front office members, particularly Bobby Webster, for their hard work on the deal.
Masai kept stressing the fact that every move he makes is in line with the goal of winning a championship. Putting himself out there was needed to take the next step, and acquiring a top-three player like Kawhi may help the Raptors do so. In Masai’s eyes, it’s easy to be average in the NBA, and making bold moves is what elevates teams.
Trading DeMar DeRozan
Masai opened up his response to Woj’s initial question about the trade by thanking DeMar DeRozan and Dwayne Casey. He made it clear that the “human side” of being a GM is the toughest part of the job by far and spoke about the phone call he made to DeMar hours before the trade broke being incredibly difficult.
Eventually, Woj referred to Masai’s press conference, asking specifically what he was apologizing to DeMar for. Masai spoke very well on the matter, saying he was simply apologizing for trading DeMar, rather than how it went down. He and Woj spoke about how 99.99% of trade talks don’t result in anything and alerting every player everytime their name is mentioned in talks is far from ideal.
Re-Signing Kawhi Leonard
Most of the talk about re-signing Kawhi was fairly standard. Masai spoke of Toronto being a “unique” environment that he has grown to love. While Woj offered some chips about the weather, Masai went on about the culture, diversity, and fans that make Toronto special.
In terms of how to handle Kawhi’s personality during the time he is here, Masai offered an excellent take, speaking about how every person is different- some black, some white, some loud, some quiet, and it’s never a bad thing to be different, because we all are. It’s not a bad thing that Kawhi is a private person. He and the Raptors will learn to communicate effectively.
Kawhi Leonard’s Health
Masai mentioned that the trade involved more work than most deals, as a lot of due-diligence was done regarding Kawhi’s health and other factors. He made it clear that this was not a shot in the dark- the research has been done, and the Raptors know what they are getting for this season.
From a health perspective, everything is looking amazing, according to Masai. He has been away in Africa, but the coaching staff has mentioned that Kawhi looks “unbelievable” and should be good to go. Just like all of us do on a daily basis, Masai beamed with excitement when asked about the upcoming season.
Hiring Nick Nurse
Because it is much less controversial than the trade, Masai spoke a lot about the process of hiring Nick Nurse. Predictably, when asked if current Raptor coaches went into the process as “favourites” to get the job, Masai spoke about how everyone was evaluated on a level playing field, and Nurse simply stood out. He loved everything about Nurse, from the immense preparation he does to his incredible mind for the game. Masai also made it clear that had they known they were getting Kawhi Leonard, Dwane Casey still would have been fired.
Masai mentioned how difficult hiring a coach is, as there are only about 2-3 meetings with each candidate, most of whom are complete strangers. With players, management can watch game film and scout them to figure out if they fit in their organization. In terms of coaches, it can be much more difficult to figure out who stands out. With that in mind, a ton of research must be done outside of the interview itself.
The podcast was concluded with a discussion on Masai’s time with Barack Obama. Masai beamed about the former president, mentioning him among the likes of Nelson Mandela and other incredible leaders. According to Masai, he knows “everything about everything”, including basketball. “He probably watches Leaguepass”, he said, adding that Obama could probably run a basketball team if he wanted to.