TORONTO (AP) — Masai Ujiri is returning to the Raptors as general manager and bringing with him a “passion to win.” He has a lot of work ahead, joining a team that has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons.
Ujiri was introduced Tuesday at Air Canada Centre after his hiring last week. He was an assistant GM with the Raptors for three seasons before leaving for the Denver Nuggets in 2010.
“I love this place,” said Ujiri, the first African-born GM in North America’s four major sports. “I’m pumped. I’m excited. This is a stage that I’ve always wanted in my life.”
Ujiri, who was born in Nigeria, was the NBA executive of the year with the Nuggets. He succeeds Bryan Colangelo, who remains the Raptors’ president in a nonbasketball role.
“It’s going to take patience,” Ujiri said. “It’s going to take will. We’re going to instill passion — a passion to win.”
Ujiri thanked the Nuggets for letting him return to the team that gave him his start in the NBA.
“It was a tough decision to leave Denver. It was an easy decision for me to come here,” he said. “I’m really, really honored and humbled that this organization would give me this chance.”
One of Ujiri’s first decisions concerns coach Dwane Casey, who has one year left on his contract. Ujiri said he didn’t see “any reason” why Casey wouldn’t coach the team next season
“We’re going to sit down, and I want to understand what his philosophies are and I’ll tell him what my philosophies are or what I think needs to be changed,” Ujiri said.
The team is above the league’s luxury tax threshold and he’ll have to decide which of the Raptors’ burdensome salaries to eliminate with the amnesty clause.
“There are good pieces on this roster,” he said. “There are phenomenal players on this roster. We have some things we need to correct.”
Another concern is finding a willing trade partner for Italian forward Andrea Bargnani.
The new GM says he owes a lot to Colangelo, who gave him an opportunity to become an NBA executive. Ujiri shrugged off suggestions that the relationship between the current and former GMs could be awkward.
“There’s no issue with Bryan Colangelo,” he said. “None whatsoever.”
At Denver, Ujiri handled the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York and assembled a relatively starless roster that still managed to become a formidable contender in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 games and went an NBA-best 38-3 at home to finish third in the conference.
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