Masai Ujiri pulled off another coup by landing Serge Ibaka as a way to fix the Raptors horrible front court. Ibaka gives the Raptors credibility in the midrange. He scores. He rebounds. He is a ball mover. Now can the Raptors keep the ball out of the backcourt to allow Ibaka to do what he does best? That is always the question: chemistry. You don’t know until you know.
With that experiment still waiting to be seen under the playoff crunch, let’s look at what Toronto GM Masai Ujiri has done in his tenure for the Raptors. He was hired in the beginning of the 2013 season.
He dumped Andrea Bargnani for a first and second round draft pick. He traded Rudy Gay. Of that Gay trade, only Patrick Patterson remains a Raptor. He signed Kyle Lowry to a free agent deal, less than the max, and kept him from bolting to Miami into the arms of Pat Riley.
Ujiri didn’t draft Terrence Ross or DeMar DeRozan. But when the time came he paid them. Ross’ $10 million helped Ujiri get Ibaka because the Magic were desperate for a wing scorer and the money worked. DeRozan is having one of the best years of his career after signing a max deal for $139 million. Ujiri also paid Jonas Valanciunas. He signed Corey Joseph as a free agent.
His one miss was DeMarre Carroll. Carroll had a great year in Atlanta when the Hawks won sixty games in 2014-15, a franchise record. But with the Raptors, Carroll has been both injured and average and for his $60 million paycheck? 10.2 points.
Ujiri let Bismack Biyombo walk this summer and he ended up in Orlando. Biyombo is playing more minutes but rebounding less and his defensive rating is the second worst of his career, tied with his rookie season. Two years earlier, Ujiri let Lou Williams, who won Sixth Man of the Year, walk. The analytics on Williams in the playoffs? His defense, was just abysmal.
More importantly, despite fan angst, Ujiri stuck with coach Dwyane Casey.
The Raptors have done this in Ujiri’s four seasons.
- 2013-14: 48 wins. Lost in the first round to Brooklyn in 7 games when Paul Pierce hit a monster dagger in the last seconds and Kyle Lowry couldn’t respond.
- 2014-15: 49 wins. Loss in the first round to the Wizards in a sweep. The combo of Lowry/DeRozan was a disaster and Lou Williams defense was laughable.
- 2015-16: 56 wins. Lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to LeBron James and the Cavs. A franchise record setting year.
- 2016-17: on pace to win 48 games, a drop off from last year.
The Raptors had to do something. Serge Ibaka may or may not be the cure. But Ujiri doesn’t stop at trying to get his team to their first NBA Finals.