After getting Kyle Lowry back on board, next up for Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is his own team’s restricted free agents Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson.
Ujiri headed into this off season with a plan. He liked what they had and he liked what they had done. Seemingly out of nowhere, there was chemistry on the Toronto Raptors and that’s hard to find and easy to screw up. The top priority was going to be all about keeping the band together for next season.
The first step was re-upping Head Coach Dwane Casey with a three-year extension and there should be no doubt that Casey is the right coach for the Raptors future.
When Ujiri announced the Casey extension, he made it clear that after the draft he was going hard after his own guys in free agency.
Masai Ujiri on Continuity:
“We have to map out a summer where our players get better – our young players get better,” Ujiri said. “As far as I am concerned, keeping our core group going forward with Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and (Patrick) Patterson and those guys are priorities for us. If you want to build a team where you have young players, we have to build on continuity.”
Later, Ujiri re-emphasized the importance he placed on his own free agents.
“When free agency comes, we have to attack our guys first,” Ujiri said.
Patterson made an instant impact on the Raptors after he was acquired from Sacramento in December and quickly took minutes away from Tyler Hansbrough because he added outside shooting to a physical game and could defend effectively out to the three-point line. A good regular season was followed by an even more impressive playoff series against the Nets.
The big man wasn’t about to commit to returning to Toronto next season, however, he was a perfect fit in his role and had a positive experience unlike anything else in his professional career thus far.
“This was my first time being on a team where everybody accepted their roles, where everybody was per se happy,” Patterson said. “This was my first time being in a positive environment where everybody was supporting one another.
“It was great here. To build strong relationships with the staff, the organization, my teammates, embrace the city, the fans, overall, I had a great time.”
Toronto is Patterson’s third team in four seasons and the Raptors want him back. It’ll be tough for Patterson to play it cool when Ujiri makes him an offer.
Vasquez on the other hand couldn’t have been more vocal about his desire to return. He loves it here and Casey loves having him on his team.
Dwane Casey and Masai Ujiri on Greivis Vasquez:
“Masai has known Greivis for a long, long time,” Casey said. “He has known him ever since he was a young kid. He has stones. He is confident. He is a kid you are not afraid to put in any situation because of his confidence.
“I love him and that’s the culture you want to develop is having guys like that who want to be here and want to be a part of the community, who want to be a part of a winning organization.”
“Greivis is one of the best teammates you can have,” Ujiri said. “It’s a business and we are going to make a business decision. Greivis is closest on our team to Tyler Hansbrough, it’s crazy, everybody loves the guy. He is very close with Kyle. As competitive as he is, he figures out a way to be competitive with his team. We want to get something done. He is one of those pieces on the team where you know that he is always going to be a great teammate and is going to go out and compete.”
The impact of a player like Vasquez on the court and in the locker room shouldn’t underestimated. He believes in himself and his teammates. Vasquez believes his team will win in pretty much any situation and his belief is outwardly visible. His outgoing nature permeates the locker room. He is a happy, positive, and uplifting influence and teams need a guy like him on their roster. He’ll be back.
It seems likely Ujiri will not be finished tinkering after getting Vasquez and Patterson back in the fold, but the Raptors GM has been following a plan since before the season ended. One step at a time, Ujiri is getting things done.