NBA

NBA: Masai Ujiri’s Bold Stance About Raptors After Kawhi Leonard’s Departure

The Toronto Raptors are fresh off winning their first NBA title behind a magnificent run through the playoffs led by Kawhi Leonard. However, the direction of the franchise has been altered a bit after Leonard’s decision to sign with the LA Clippers this offseason. Despite that, general manager Masai Ujiri has remained extremely confident in the franchise’s future.

Kawhi Leonard leaves the Raptors in free agency

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard
The departure of Kawhi Leonard could have a huge impact on the Raptors’ championship hopes. | Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Daily Breeze via Getty Images)

When the Toronto Raptors made the big-splash move to acquire Leonard last offseason, Ujiri did it with the knowledge that there was a realistic chance that he could wind up leaving the following summer.

Despite winning an NBA title, Leonard stayed the course on that route by electing to sign with the Clippers, who Doc Rivers found out about the decision in an interesting way. Los Angeles had long been considered the 28-year-old’s desired landing spot since things began to grow sour with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Raptors elected to take a chance with the hopes that experiencing success and potentially leading the franchise to their first championship would influence him to stay for the long haul. In the end, it was a shot worth taking, but now the team is without arguably the best player in the league.

Masai Ujiri’s championship confidence even without Kawhi Leonard

The Raptors have quickly come to terms with Leonard no longer being in the mix. Keep in mind, the team also lost Danny Green in free agency to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the rest of the core group has remained intact.

Toronto has constructed a veteran-laden roster that has plenty of experience with the likes of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka that could fare better than expected next season. In a recent interview with Adrienne Arsenault of CBC’s The National, Ujiri made it crystal clear that he believes the Raptors can win another NBA title without Leonard.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s optimistic answer to that is simple: “100 percent,” he said in an interview with Adrienne Arsenault, co-host of CBC’s The National.

“I look at what this team has done and what we can learn from it. We learned how to win. And Kawhi taught us that. He brought us into that space,” Ujiri said.

There is clearly no lack of confidence from Ujiri about the future of the franchise as the team still has a talented core group in place. The question now remains whether they can get the job done.

Raptors’ expectations for 2019-20 season

Raptors forward Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam has the chance to step up in a bigger role with the Raptors with Kawhi Leonard gone. | Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For the first time in franchise history, the Raptors will head into a season as the defending champions that brings a significant amount of pressure on their shoulders. The landscape of the league has changed significantly, which has elevated several other teams such as the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Philadephia 76ers to higher expectations.

Toronto will be tasked with getting out of the Eastern Conference dealing with a retooled 76ers’ squad along with an even hungrier Milwaukee Bucks team led by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo looking to bounce back after last year’s Eastern Conference Finals exit. There will also be stiff challenges from the likes of the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, and Indiana Pacers.

The departure of Leonard could open the way for Siakam to take the next leap in his development as he’s become one of the league’s rising stars, especially behind his play in the playoffs. He has a chance to become the Raptors’ primary offensive option, while the veterans alongside him in Lowry, Ibaka, VanVleet, and Gasol could also all factor into bigger roles on the floor.

It may be a tough road ahead for the Raptors, but Ujiri has shown nothing short of complete confidence that the franchise can get to the mountain top again this time around without Leonard.