President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri made it clear the Raptors would be going after their own free agents first this summer after watching a group of players with future potential play at a level that was greater than the sum of their parts. This time Toronto was going to build their team the right way – no quick fixes and nothing crazy in the off season.
Masai Ujiri audio:
Ujiri went into last season looking to see what he had. He evaluated the situation quickly, made changes and after finding something that worked, the goal was to grow what he had.
“We grow our own players and that is a goal of ours,” Ujiri said.
Getting unrestricted free agent Kyle Lowry to agree to return took a day, restricted free agent Patrick Patterson followed soon after and the Toronto-loving Greivis Vasquez finally committed just before the July moratorium ended. Ujiri had commitments from all of his key free agents before they could sign with anyone else. Continuity is important to Ujiri.
“It was a goal of ours to get most of our players back, the full group and I wanted to make sure it was done by this date and we tried our best to get all the guys done,” Ujiri said. “It’s good, at least it gives the guys a little bit of rest-of-mind and now they can get on with working out. We always do a dinner with our players in Vegas on the 10th and I put it as a deadline for me to get everybody in there.”
Now that’s a deadline every GM should try to use. Guys, you got to sign now or you will screw up everyone’s dinner reservations in Vegas.
The theme of continuity goes past merely re-signing the team’s own free agents. Ujiri has developed a sense of ‘team’ that extends to the rookies expected to be on the roster this coming season (or maybe the following season) and newbies Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and DeAndre Daniels were welcomed by the Raptors veterans in workouts ahead of the NBA Summer League.
“They know each other, continuity,” Ujiri said. “We send Bruno and Bebe (Lucas Nogueira) to go and workout a few days with DeMar (DeRozan) and Terrence (Ross) and Amir (Johnson) and DeAndre (Daniels) and those guys and you can tell there is a sense of team. They welcome the young guys and we had a scrimmage against Sacramento and you would have (had to) pay me to stay in that gym and watch that game, but DeMar and Amir and Terrence were all there throughout the whole game watching the younger guys scrimmage. It says a lot, in Vegas especially, it’s a team and you get that sense with these guys. You hear Kyle (Lowry) talk about DeMar and you hear them talk about each other and they go out there and fight, so it’s a team and that’s what you want in your court.”
The Raptors are not just hanging onto players for continuity’s sake alone. Ujiri has already proven that he is more than willing to trade anyone he feels doesn’t work with his roster. He really only wants one type of player, guys that appreciate what the NBA does for them and want to fight to stay in the league and get better.
“I like guys that compete, guys that fight out there,” Ujiri said. “It is not always going to go your way and you need some luck to be honest in the NBA. Working hard and fighting is what we should do because we should be grateful to be doing something that we love. I don’t like guys that cut corners and or try to go the easy route. These guys work hard, we saw it every day and you know what, I don’t pay players, I don’t pay stats, I try to pay winners and that’s what you want to do. It’s not like they have done it for many years, but it is a good start for us with a young core.”
The guys Ujiri is bringing back from last season are all fighters and the newcomers had better pay attention. The Raptors plan on continuing to build a team that is better than the sum of its parts. Chemistry comes from hard work and doing things that help your team even if it isn’t obvious how doing them is helping yourself. Those that don’t get it won’t be a part of Ujiri’s plan for continuity for very long.
Raptors Summer League Team Will Be Fun To Watch
This year’s Toronto Raptors NBA Summer League team is going to be fun to watch. The 7’ Lucas Nogueira tore up Summer League with the Hawks last year blocking everything in sight. The 18-year-old Bruno Caboclo 7’6 wingspan is just as long as Nogueira and this very young talent will have his moments in Summer League. DeAndre Daniels is fighting for an NBA job and this is really his only shot to convince Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to keep him in Toronto next season.