Ujiri The Ultimate Chemistry Teacher




VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors are on a roll right now, winners of four straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Masai Ujiri‘s front office peers around the NBA should pay close attention to the way the Toronto Raptors’ star goes about his business. While some franchise architects like to work their so-called magic with the public watching intently, Ujiri has done a masterful job (first in Denver and now in Toronto) tweaking chemistry and getting results.

In fact, Ujiri has proven himself to be the ultimate chemistry teacher these days in terms of knowing how to tweak a roster just right. The reigning NBA Executive of the Year, an honor voted on by his peers, Ujiri is making a strong push for repeat honors with the way the Raptors are playing since the Rudy Gay trade went down.

They are 9-3 and winners of eight of their last 10 games since moving Gay to Sacramento Dec. 9. It was a move designed to give the Raptors long-term flexibility and not necessarily an immediate jolt that has helped them climb all the way up to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

But Ujiri has a way of studying a roster, figuring out what works and what doesn’t and then being fearless in his attempts to change things for the better. Since Gay was jettisoned, the Raptors have scored huge wins over the likes of Dallas and Chicago, and most recently in Oklahoma City (where they handed the West-best Thunder their first home loss of the season) and kicked off 2014 with an impressive home win over the East-best Indiana Pacers.

As much as this is about the fine work being done by Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his staff, and of course, the contributions of a roster full of grinders like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez and others, this is about the man who put it all together.

Ujiri just happens to have the magic touch right now. And if you don’t believe it, just look at the hard times his former team has fallen upon in his absence. The Denver Nuggets have lost eight straight games, their longest such skid since the end of the 2002-03 season. Veteran point guard Andre Miller turned the heat up even more by ripping first-year coach Brian Shaw after Wednesday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, making matters worse in Denver while Ujiri has his new team soaring.

A boss like Ujiri keeps those dustups contained, as best can be, or at least at a minimum and away from the public. You don’t have to worry about those sorts of altercations when working conditions are at a premium. And Ujiri has freed up virtually every key rotation player on the Raptors’ roster to do what he does best after the Gay trade.

DeRozan and Lowry in particular are allowed to play more to their natural strengths on the perimeter, while Valanciunas has become more of a focal point as well. Role players like Johnson, the ridiculously underrated Vasquez, who came over from Sacramento in the trade, and young journeyman forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson have become critical pieces in the Raptors’ current run.

“No one on this team is selfish; everyone accepts their roles,” Patterson told reporters after the Raptors outslugged Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers to kick off the New Year. “No one wants to get more shots, no one wants to do more of this, no one is jealous of another player … we all understand what we have to do in order to make this machine keep rolling smoothly.”

The man responsible for making sure that machine runs without a hitch, of course, is Ujiri. He understands, as well or better than most right now, that team chemistry trumps just about everything else that goes on inside a team’s fabric in this day and age. Even the Miami Heat needed a year (and a Finals defeat at the hands of a Mavericks team that had off the charts chemistry) to figure that out.


VIDEO: The Raptors took it to the Pacers, kicking off 2014 in style before the home crowd

48 Comments

  1. tom says:

    wish the Chicago front office thought things out as well as the raptors front office does

  2. J4CK Nicholson says:

    The young Jim Buss should take a lesson or two on how to manage and operate a team. Being a “Buss” does not mean he knows everything about basketball.

  3. oshan says:

    We should have canadian media cover more on raptors instead of playing hockey games of other teams on TSN and Sportsnet.

  4. oshan says:

    go raptors

  5. asdfgjkl; says:

    I hope they snatch the atlantic division title

  6. Kome the Black Dumba says:

    I think Raptors is a good team that US media never gave them much credit. Killing OKC and then stop Pacers streak? Without Rudy Gay? If this is Miami Heat winning without James they’ll have at least 8 blogs about it.

    I hope one day US won’t treat their lone Canada team like it’s an outer space team.

  7. James says:

    Loved the read Sekou…

    But I think Ujiri needs to win back-to-back Executive of the Year Awards before topping Walter White on that list of ultimate chemistry teachers… :)

  8. Raps #1 Fan says:

    Ujiri has made some great moves, I’m sure it’ll motivate the team knowing their GM won coach of the month along side their hot streak. A lot of the recent success I think has been more team work and better shot selection. Also, I think Casey figured out a better rotation and better minutes for Valanciunas/Ross which is giving them that extra push.. They may be in a weaker division and conference but they beat top teams, and the ones they did lose were only by a few points, they shouldn’t be underestimated.

  9. BadMan says:

    Masai has done some groundwork for the future in moving pasta man and gay, but it was colangelo that has made the present day raps what it is. do not discredit him. U gotta give credit where credit is due…..let’s also not forget Masai was under colangelo for all the previous moves and draft picks…..

  10. okc2014 says:

    Durant will never play in Toronto! I’m glad Lowry hasn’t been traded. I think him, Derozan, Ross and Jonson have great chemistry. I was a believer that the Rudy Gay trade to the Raptors was a great move, but now I feel differently. I’m hesitant and agree with the person who said the Raptors winning streak is temporary. But I like the way the management team keeps their wheels rolling and turning to move in the direction of playoffs and wins. Go Raptors. I still hate that they beat the Pacers and OKC. After OKC, the Raptors are the hardest working team in the NBA.

  11. Gurubbal says:

    Wow, come back down to earth Raps Nation, they play in the East and in the powerful PATHETIC atlantic division. East has 2 really great team and the rest are D-League teams. They can win the division with 34 wins. WOW. What happened to #rigging for wiggins. If they play in the West, they be just where the Jazz and Kings are, dead last. Out of the playoffs already in December. How’s that signing of the GREAT Landry Fields, the best free agent signing in the Raps team history.

    • NBAFan says:

      You notice how terribly wrong you are. Pacers were downing so many teams on the streak, and Raptors lately shut down the 2 best teams (record wise), OKc and Pacers. Lemme know when Jazz, Kings, or any of the D-League teams win against both the teams.

      You need to stop hating on Toronto. Terance Ross shut down PG, JV shut down Hibber, and DeMar sparked with his offensive skills like usual. DeMar is underrated compared to how overrated PG is.

  12. Mike says:

    Sekou is a great writer. I thoroughly enjoy his articles. This one is particularly sweet being a big Raptor fan. No doubt they should sign Hansborough, Lowry , and Vasquez to long term deals. Yes , Hansbrough. He is much improved and getting better. He led the way right from the start showing guys how to win.

    As for Lowry why trade a top 10 point guard in the league. He is already what many teams are looking for. Keep him.

    Demar is a superstar in the making.

    Future looks bright in Toronto.

  13. Stephisbeast says:

    Oh come on give Drake some credit

  14. Vino says:

    The entire starting five is comprised of players that Brian Colangelo brought in and/or signed to longer term contracts under heavy criticism. Toronto moaned when he decided to lock up Demar; they screamed ‘overpriced’ when he signed Amir, they said ‘wasted pick’ when he choose JV knowing he would have to sit out a year and they all said ‘who’ when he drafted Ross.

    True that Masai has rebuilt the bench; but it’s the starting unit that is the reason for their current success. If Brian would never had been pressured to bring in a “star”; the Raps could have the exact same starting 5 with Bargnani, Ed Davis, Fields and Jose making up a better second unit than they’re currently running.

  15. Mambo says:

    Trade rumour Kevin Durant coming to Toronto.

  16. Shep says:

    Masai the mastermind?

    Kyle Lowry – Traded for by Bryan Colangelo
    Demar Derozan – Drafted by Bryan Colangelo
    Terrence Ross – Drafted by Bryan Colangelo
    Amir Johnson – Traded for by Bryan Colangelo
    Jonas Valanciunas – Drafted by Bryan Colangelo

    I believe Masai is a great GM that will improve the team even more but the starters are all Colangelo’s work

  17. Canada Dry says:

    Great to see Raptors gaining some attention. DeRozan is #15 NBA scorer at 20.9 ppg. Hardly a grinder!

    • james says:

      As much has Derozan improved on his jumper, he needs to become more of a on-ball lock up defender because he certainly has the size and athleticism to do it. Ray Allen at this stage of his career is a better on ball defender

  18. Faran says:

    If the Raptors would have let Kyle go to NY I dont think the Raptors would be doing as good as they are now. Masai is probably saying to himself that would have been a big mistake. With this current line-up the raps will probably make the 2nd round of the playoffs but they will not win a championship. They are so much more balanced now, more sharing, getting better looks, etc. They still need 1 more piece of the puzzle, a super star in order to win in this league. But they are in great shape right now! Lets go Raps!

  19. jim says:

    I wouldn’t make too much of his sorcerer’s magic; after all he helped put together a pell-mell Nuggets team with so many moving pieces as to confuse George Karl in the playoffs, being handily out-coached by Mark Jackson.

    No doubt the ball is moving more w/o Gay’s iso’s. Please note that Sacto has also had some success since the trade, which may be a (very) short term surge, just as in the Toronto case.

    It’s nice as a blurb idea, but there isn’t enough data for a true story.

    • AC says:

      Beating OKC, Dallas and the Pacer’s while going 9-3 after trading a “star” player isn’t considered enough data for a true story? what planet you on dawg

  20. Johnson says:

    The MESSIAH

  21. Lebron iZ DeezD says:

    RapZ R GettNNN DEEZDDDD AAAAYYYYYEEEEE!!!

  22. as says:

    But is this winning streak is ok if they are planing to go for a draft pick?

  23. Rbzl says:

    we have landed one key star. his name is Jonas, give him a couple years.

  24. V says:

    I think we are getting excited over a few wins. Yes the raptors are playing good, but its a long season. I hope the Raptors can sustain their play the rest of the way.
    I still think when we had tmac, vc, parker, oakley, davis, we were a better team, to bad iverson put us out. However double D has pretty much become a star; I think the real question is who will be the next one JV or TR? I think once one of them becomes a solid 2nd option behind DD we will be a legit team.

  25. dustydreamnz says:

    Don’t you think Uriji looks like an older version of Kyle Lowry?

  26. dustydreamnz says:

    Good article but I’d hardly say DeMar DeRozan was a grinder.

  27. Things are looking real positive for Toronto. Not to discredit Ujuri but he DID have quite a win/win situation on his hands with trading Gay. If they tanked after the trade, it would have been expected and was even being labelled as “part of the master plan”… On the other hand, if they win (which they have been), it’s great and “part of the master plan” lol… I personally don’t think tanking was in the game plan to begin with but who knows… In my opinion, with the way Ujuri is working and the recent partnership with Drake/OVO, The Raptors could start attracting some big names to play for them as long as they keep up their winning ways. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an All-Star playing in Toronto within 3 years.

  28. Steve says:

    In my opinion Ujiri is not the one making the Raps good, it is the players working hard and showing results. Go Leafs Go.

    • Matt says:

      Go Leafs, go? This is an NBA website… and it is a combination of the 2. Ujiri needed to acquire the right players to make the necessary improvements in balancing out the roster

  29. Steve says:

    I think the Raps will make the playoffs this year and make a run. #depth #believe

  30. Anthony says:

    I’ve been following the Raptors since their inception and they have only had one talented team with Mc Grady and Carter. This is now a team that can perhaps make some noise in the playoffs. They are deep, young and room for growth. Perhaps landing one key star will allow Toronto to compete for a championship in a the next few years. Something Toronto hasn’t seen since the Toronto Blue Jays.

    • Mugs says:

      you are forgetting about the atlantic divison championship team….. with bosh, garbahosa, tj ford….. that was a good team until garbahosa got injured

  31. Kal says:

    The Raps keep playing like this… they’ll go down as the best Raps squad so far. This is one of the better balanced rosters Toronto has ever had — thanks in large part to Ujiri’s master tweak — and under Casey they play the game the right way, moving the ball and getting after it on D.

  32. patrick says:

    i think vasquez is taking too many shots,,too many of them not that open.

  33. Ashley says:

    Things will only get brighter. Go Toronto!!!

  34. Dsh says:

    NBA is pro American. Never gave Raptors any credit they deserve

    • Scottie not Pippen says:

      Baskeketball was invented by a canadian.. 1st NBA game was played in Toronto.. 3 of the top 10 freshman in D1 this year are canadian.. Anthony bennett the no. 1 pick in the draft hes canadian too.. 8 new players on the canadian mens team are all currently in the NBA .. Carelton University in Ontario, Canada beat Wisconsin and lost to Syracuse in Overtime this year in preseason exhibition games (both teams are currently top 10 in D1 and undefeated this year in NCAA play)..do some research all of Canada supports the Raptors thats 40 millions fans ..

  35. Darius says:

    Everything’s gonna be fine in Toronto.

  36. Dante says:

    Well said. The Raptors and Toronto have terrific potential ( fourth largest city in North America behind Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles.
    Now under new management and enlightened thinking.Previously held in a majority position by the ultra conservative Teachers Federation who would never think big or spend a penny beyond what they could get away with, the loyal Raptors fans were cheated.
    The Raptors are on a terrific winning run and we don’t get the attention from the US media. Thanks for your fair observations.