On the Mend

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Raptors Masai Ujiri Continue to Mend Relationship with DeMar Derozan

It’s been two years since the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to Toronto, yet Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is still working towards mending his relationship with franchise icon DeMar DeRozan.

“It’s not easy”.

According to Ujiri, his relationship with ex-coach Dwane Casey has significantly improved since the executive replaced Casey with his underling, Nick Nurse.

“I will never forget,” said Ujiri in an interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson. “I will never, ever forget having to do that with Coach Casey and walking to his office, waking up that morning. Many times I wanted to move it and change it or think that you’re not making the right decision. It was incredibly hard, because Casey is an incredible person, and so great to work with. … DeMar, I was in the hotel in Kenya, and I walked around that hotel at 4 a.m., 5 a.m., for a couple hours, trying to gather up enough strength and courage to make this phone call. I will never forget it.

“With Casey, it has gotten so much better now with his family and him. With DeMar there is still plenty of work to be done. But, by the grace of God, it will all get better. We have to continue to make these decisions that are tough. But that’s the business of basketball, and the position that we are in.”

With Nurse at the helm and a new star in the fold, the re-loaded Raptors went onto win the franchise’s first ever NBA championship in 2019.

“I always say that the two hardest things in our world, in our business, is trading a player and then when a player leaves, if a player leaves in free agency,” Ujiri said. “And it’s hard on both sides. When a player is traded, it is hard on the player side, and when a player leaves, like us [with Leonard last summer], it is hard on that side. I’ve experienced all of it, from wonderful people.

In what was a rollercoaster calendar year for the Raptors executive, Ujiri is very capable of sharing the human element of the profession.

“It sometimes puts a strain on relationships, as we saw with DeMar. People don’t know even with [when we traded] Rudy Gay, I was close to Rudy. Incredible kid. Incredible kid with DeMar, where you build and you’re trying to preach a culture of good, of trust, of being with people, and then you have to make this decision [to trade him].

“With Kawhi, we just built a relationship where we trusted each other, and that friendship has evolved even bigger after he left, and I’m proud of that. I support him with everything he does as a human being, and his family, and you move on. You’ve got to move on to the next …”

Sometime to win, tough decisions must be made. That was exactly the case for Ujiri and the Raptors.

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