It required five postseasons with no name before Masai Ujiri had seen sufficient.
The Toronto Raptors had tapped out, with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry anchoring the backcourt. In five seasons from 2013-14 to 2017-18, the Raptors won more regular-season games than any other Eastern Conference team, but the Raptors watched more first-round exits compared to trips to the Eastern Conference finals, never reaching the NBA Finals.
And last July, Ujiri made his move. The Raptors traded DeRozan — the top scorer in franchise history at the peak of his career — combined with Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick into the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and money considerations. The Lowry-DeRozan backcourt was divided, the Coach of the Year Dwane Casey was let go after seven seasons, and a brand new age in Toronto had begun.
The results have, so far, been optimistic. Despite Leonard lost about a quarter of this year, the Raptors now have better championship chances than they did at this time last year. As such, the home run of Ujiri effectively put the remainder of the league on notice. If DeRozan is not safe, who is? The same as Miami’s Big Three sparked the era of participant agency, the Raptors could have broken the seal for additional perennial underachievers to follow suit.
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