By Frank McLean
A very quiet week at the Toronto Raptors Biosteel Centre practice facility became chaotic Wednesday morning after it was announced that the New York Knicks were finally coming to their senses and dumping Phil Jackson as their President of Basketball Operations.
So how does that affect the Toronto Raptors you might ask?
Well, minutes after the Jackson story became official Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported that Madison Square Garden was hiring former MLSE boss Tim Leiweke as an adviser and then reported that the Knicks were interested in hiring the Raptors basketball guru Masai Ujiri to take over the Knicks, regardless that Ujiri still has four years remaining on his current contract.
So by 9am both of Toronto’s all sports radio stations and the social media word was going nuts with the story.
Then about a half hour later the Raptors finally announced how Ujiri was restructuring his front office based on the departure of former General Manager Jeff Weltman to the Orlando Magic.
So the front office will look like this.
Assistant General Manager Bobby Webster, who has been considered for GM jobs with other orgainizations, will now be the General Manager and the guy who will have to sit down and re-sign Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson.
Dan Tolzman, who was the player personnel guy and the man behind the success which is the NBDL’s Raptors-905, moves to Assistant General Manager.
And Keith Boyarsky moves from analytics to Vice President of Basketball Strategy and Research.
Much to the surprise of the assembled media Ujiri made a brief statement about the promotions, but before he was asked he stated he would not comment on the news of the day because he did not want to steal the thunder from Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky’s day.
“Today is all about Bobby Webster, he deserves it,” Ujiri said. “Also Dan Tolzman and Keith Boyarsky who we promoted. It’s their day. Everything that we have done in this organization and going forward, they have contributed in every way that they could and have been a big part of it. So today is about Bobby, congratulations.”
After he introduced Webster he disappeared.
The timing of the press conference was strange because usually we (in the media) get a notice of a press conference a day before so news outlets can plan for staffing it. We knew Ujiri was not in a hurry to announce the moves, but this seems like the Raptors were trying to put out a fire.
The last paragraph in the announcement stated that Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky will all report to Ujiri. Was that a hidden message? Well, probably not hidden.
At 32 Webster becomes the youngest GM in the NBA and he made it clear that yes he knows he is young.
“I know I’m young and I’m younger looking,” Webster said to much laughter in the room. “I know the circumstances that got me here and I know I will continue to grow.”
He also credited the leadership support from MLSE’s Larry Tannenbaum and the Board of Directors for having the confidence to put him in this position.
For a 32-year old, Webster has a resume that would make you think he is older than what his birth certificate says.
He started with the Orlando Magic, then spent seven years in the NBA office in New York City where Masai Ujiri plucked him for the Raptors.
At the NBA he was the Associate Director of Salary Cap Management. Helped the league’s Labor Relations Committee negotiate the CBA with the Players Association and advised all 30-teams on salary cap management, luxury tax planning, contact negotiations and trade proposals.
As you can see, he has the experience to step into the GM’s job.
But with all the noise out of New York City about Ujiri leaving for the Knicks a question to him if he thinks he will be working for Ujiri might put a stop to the speculation.
“When you see the special relationship everyday between Larry (Tannenbaum) and Masai it’s clear that he is happy to be part of it.”
When the question of the four free agents came up Webster said it will be addressed when it is the appropriate time and that contract talks with agents are, “not as crazy as people think. You sit down and talk basketball.”
When it was all done the speculation of Ujiri leaving was still there like the proverbial 500-pound gorilla in the room. So, until he addresses the issue yes or no, it won’t go away.
My take is I think this is a lot of hot air out of New York. People there can’t understand why anyone would not want to work there. They think it’s the center of the universe.
The Knicks are as a dysfunctional operation as there is in all of professional sports. Ujiri loves Toronto and countless times he has stated that. He has a good thing with the Raptors why would he want to go?
Who could forget his heartfelt re-introduction to the local Toronto media back in the summer of 2013. “I’m home,” Ujiri almost sighed.
And if he was leaving the Raptors, would he have been allowed to make the moves that he did on Wednesday.
Folks he is not going anywhere. It’s hard to imagine Tannenbaum ever giving Dolan permission to even just talk to Ujiri.
“We believe in Masai and Masai believes in us,” Webster said.
Wednesday was a crazy day, what will Thursday bring?
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.