The Masai Ujiri Coverage


As is often the case when NBA news breaks, it is Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) that breaks it.


but then….


and in Toronto…

And that is how Tuesday February 4th started….

and then

Now, we kind of know how the story ends. Kind of.


So the Knicks have themselves a new President and Masai is still with the Raptors. The end, right?




As is the case in baseball, despite having a team in Toronto, much of the big news (not all but most) in the NBA comes from the the USA. More teams, more media and more agents with lose lips. Same reason why more stories break in Canada on hockey- kind of, but you know what I mean.

However, it is in Toronto that this story really gets interesting. Several, admired, respected and well known members of the media have commented, said or written things about this story that have given me pause.

Usual disclaimer, I am nothing but a fan with a keyboard. Just like Colonel Klink, I know nothing. However there is enough here that makes me go hmmmmm. I am not calling bullshit nor saying anyone is wrong but I thought the coverage was interesting enough to write about it.

One of the perks- ok, the only perk of writing here is that I get to interact with some who play in sports for real who are really good people. Over the years I’ve established enough of relationship with some that I think there is mutual trust ( I admire them- doubt given what I do the same is true).

So when Woj broke the story, after the dust settled I was able to reach the conclusion that Masai was gone. Done deal, he was leaving for the Knicks. Despite the comments about the ownership of the Knicks it seemed that there was simply nothing more for Masai to do in Toronto and that the amount of money, including a likely piece of ownership would be enough to lead him away. For complete transparency, none of the people I spoke with work is included below.

Michael Grange is one of the best, if not the best writer in the country period- let alone of those who cover the Raptors. Grange is one of the scribes who has been all over the Masai story for a long time, in fact he wrote in December an entire article entitled the “Raptors missed chance to keep Ujiri from Free Agency”.

“The Raptors’ ownership, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, could have avoided some of this noise by simply giving Ujiri an extension and a blank cheque this past summer but – contrary to a report that Ujiri turned down an extension – there has never been one been offered, according to sources.”

Grange in that peace basically states, and I am paraphrasing here, but the number of suitors (Knicks, Wizzards etc) is only going to grow as Masai’s contract comes to an end after the 20-21 season, the time for MLSE to try to get Masai extended was likely last summer and now with free agency looming even a blank cheque may not be enough to get Masai to forgo free agency. Again, those are my words from a very well written article.

That theme continued on February 4th, when Grange wrote the best article of many on the news du jour.

“One way or another, the expectation is Ujiri’s status will be cleared up well before the 2020-21 season.As one league source put it to me recently: “If something is going to happen with Masai and the Knicks it will happen quick, probably a few days after (this) season is over.” Taken together, the picture seems clear. The Raptors haven’t offered Ujiri an extension, he’s determined to become a free agent and he may have an out on his deal this coming summer. Short answer? Ujiri is gone.

(I added the bold, that was not in the article)

Grange also notes that Marc Stein of ESPN reported that not only was Masai going to head to New York but his second in command Raptors GM Bobby Webster who’s contract expires at the same time as Masai’s contract could also be fleeing the 6. If Masai’s leaving wasn’t bad enough… Grange basically explains how the Raptors had not offered Masai an extension before and again restates that even if they did at this time it wasn’t a certainty that Masai would accept it.

Now, Grange does call out the usual “caveats”- you know it’s not done until it’s done type stuff, or in this case one never can tell what James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks will do until he’s done it. Grange also raises the issue of potential tampering on Dolan’s part, the fact that it’s one thing to say what it would take financially to get Masai to leave it’s another to actually write the cheque and then of course the issue of compensation due to the Raptors should he actually leave.

Despite the “caveats” this was, I believe the boldest comment from a respected journalist that Masai’s days were numbered in Toronto.


Blame MLSE?


Now, as you know the reason I started this site was that during the early 2000’s the Toronto sports media overt negativity to all things Toronto sports. Yes, as a Child of the 70’s 80’s the Blue Jays were the lone exception for a fan of Toronto teams to be proud of what their teams were accomplishing. Various ownership and management groups had screwed up so, so many things that as a Toronto sports fan it’s not that hard to find fault at the tippy top.

However, with the arrival of Masai, Brendan Shanahan, a Raptors Championship, John Tavares signing etc it appeared that things at the top of MLSE were on track. No, not perfect but not Harold Ballard or Bitove, Stavros, Pension Plan-eque either.

Part of the inference I took from both Grange pieces was that MLSE was to blame for the current situation with Masai. Dave Feschuk goes even further in suggesting that if Tim Leiweke were still running MLSE the whole Masai scenario wouldn’t be possible; that is he would have already signed an extension. I am not saying these things aren’t true, but rather it seems that the appearance that things are actually pretty good seems in contrast to what is being reported of late.

Here’s a clip from Feschuk’s story:


Over on the Fan 590, Jeff Blair and Richard Deitesch devoted a lot (deservedly so) airtime to the story. Here is the link. Jeff and Richard talk about Grange’s article. It’s impossible to listen to the show and not walk away feeling that Grange was right and Masai was leaving.

To wit, Richard says, it is very clear that Adam Silver and the league want the Knicks to be successful and from the reports maybe the league is putting pressure on all parties to get this done. Blair compares MLB nudging the Jays to hire Mark Shapiro.

Bruce Arthur chimed in too:

“The Raptors are the best-run organization in basketball, and the problem with that is that other teams want to hire the people who run it. It’s about the best problem MLSE could ask for.

But this is what happens. According to sources familiar with the organization who were not publicly authorized to discuss the matter, MLSE did not offer Ujiri a contract extension over the summer. This was a departure: Ujiri signed a five-year deal when he came to Toronto in 2013, and the organization ripped it up and signed him to a new five-year deal three years later, after the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference final.

They didn’t this time, for whatever reason. The night the Raptors won the NBA title last June, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Washington Wizards were prepared to offer Ujiri $10 million per year and a path to a piece of ownership to run the bedraggled franchise. That was never a serious consideration, per sources; there was never any indication that Ujiri was interested.”

So, the next day the news breaks that the Knicks have moved on from Masai. So what happened?

“It probably didn’t help that Larry Tanenbaum — Raptors minority owner and chairman of the NBA board of governors – was not about to make it easy for the Knicks to poach the architect of the Raptors’ success. Whether that involved Tanenbaum appealing directly to Dolan or to NBA commissioner Adam Silver or both, the sense is Raptors ownership was emphatic: there would be no cooperation from them to make Ujiri’s exit at any time in advance of the natural end of his contract in the summer of 2021 any easier. Faced with the possibility of massive demands for compensation, obstacles to granting permission to talk, and the message that the tampering radar would be on full, Dolan has apparently chosen the bird in the hand rather than waiting to see when Ujiri could be flushed out.”

That from Grange, in another stellar piece. So what now?

“My understanding of the situation is that though there have been some preliminary discussions between Ujiri and the ownership group at MLSE, nothing has changed in the past month regarding the Raptors president’s desire to not address his contract status until the summer of 2020 at the earliest and maybe all the way to 2021. That doesn’t mean MLSE won’t get a chance to pitch him on a new deal, but there’s no guarantee Ujiri won’t push his decision as far out as possible.”

So, to me this all makes sense. While I think it is nice to say they should have ripped up his deal after they had won the Larry OB, truth be told he still had 2 plus seasons left on his deal and more to the point, who really knows outside of the principals what has and hasn’t been discussed. Yet, once again things get stirred up:

“But considering how strong a relationship Ujiri has with Tanenbaum (“he’s like a son,” the Raptors chairman said in the championship dressing room back in June when reports of the Washington Wizards’ play for Ujiri surfaced), it’s interesting to speculate about what might be holding Ujiri back even now with the opportunity in New York apparently past.”

Do I sense a hint that perhaps the two principals aren’t that close? I mean isn’t this saying, if they are that close why the hell WOULDN’T Masai have signed an extension, which assumes of course one has been officially offered.

Grange then outlines the current status of the MLSE board. The board member from Bell has retired, MLSE has a new no-name (my words) CEO, and Larry Tannenbaum is approaching 75 and there could be uncertainty around his future and future interests. Again, all my words on how I read Grange’s comments.

The bottom line, according to Grange and others is that Raptors fans, to the extent they deeply care about Masai (and his team) leading the Raptors should not be sleeping easily. Despite success on the court last year and the crazy performance thus far, there is no certainty that Masai will be around after his current deal expires.

All fun stuff to speculate on wouldn’t you say?

It is possible, by the way that there is nothing really “blameworthy” going on here. It is possible that the relationship is fine and that things between the board and Masai is as good as it can be. It is also possible that like a player, Masai wants to test free agency and it’s also possible that no matter how much money will be offered or the nature of the relationship, that he simply wants to try something new.

As I said, this isn’t meant as a shot or chirp at any of those who wrote or commented on the story. As a Toronto sports fan, I grew up at a time when ownership and management, for the most part earned their criticism. I lived through every brutal GM, every brutal trade and free agency signing. So, perhaps my antenna are up for the media pilling on when perhaps it’s not warranted. There have been enough times over my life that it is, I am not sure this is one of them.


Quick Hits


At least once a day I hit all the Toronto newspaper website to check out the daily news with a keen eye on sports.


  • The Star is the king at teasing stories only to find them behind a paywall. The top stuff on sports, Arthur’s work for example is readily available. For reasons I don’t get Feschuk’s is not. While the navigation is okay, I don’t know why they make it so damn hard to find things. Their search sucks and the layout in terms of authors is dumb.


  • The Globe is the poor person WSJ. Business content is okay, layout is clear and easy and search works well. Well, it works well enough in that there is little to no sports to find. There are a few writers there to read but it’s fallen a long long way.


  • The Sun is the one outlet I simply don’t get. They have a shit ton of content. I am not sure there’s an outlet that covers sports more than the Sun does. The layout is a disaster. Have you ever actually gone to the site to try and find say Steve Simmons weekly column. It’s a needle in a haystack. Who the hell is in charge over there and what is their infatuation with video? This isn’t that hard, go to WordPress, pick a theme- hell some of them are free and input the content. Use the appropriate tags and viola a website that looks like it is from this era.


When did Blue Jays fans become so touchy? On Twitter anyway there is no thinner skinned group than the Blue Jays die hards. Case in point:

I didn’t make it up, the teaser to the excellent article by Shi Davidi reads “How the dominos fell for one of the best Blue Jays off-seasons ever”

Well, judging my my messages, emails and DM’s you’d have thunk I had announced the Jays were closing shop. Seriously. People were pissed! “Don’t you know writer’s don’t write headlines?” I was repeatedly asked. Ummmm, yeah- so what? The statement by someone at casa Rogers, clearly intended to warm the hearts and maybe sell some tickets was that this one of the best off seasons ever. So I was curious if Jays fans agreed. Personally I felt that the seasons when they acquired (1) McGriff and Fernandez (2) Winfield and Morris and (3) Molitor and Stewart would rank as the best 3 but as I have always said I am nowhere near a Blue Jays guru. In any event, Jays fans certainly are taking things very personally this year.

Hope you are enjoying the podcasts, special thanks to all my guests, if you are in the business and want to appear please drop me a note.


About the Author