It took five postseasons with no name before Masai Ujiri had seen enough.
The Toronto Raptors had seemingly tapped out. In five seasons out of 2013-14 to 2017-18, the Raptors won more regular-season games than another Eastern Conference team, but the Raptors watched more first-round exits compared to trips to the Eastern Conference finalsrather than reaching the NBA Finals.
And last July, Ujiri made his move. The Raptors traded DeRozan — the leading scorer in franchise history in the summit of his career — along with Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick into the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and cash considerations. The Lowry-DeRozan backcourt was broken up, the Coach of the Year Dwane Casey was let go after seven seasons, and a new era in Toronto had started.
The outcomes have, up to now, been optimistic. Despite Leonard missing about a quarter of the season, the Raptors now have greater championship chances than they did at this time this past year. As Ujiri’s home run effectively put the rest of the league on notice. If DeRozan is not safe, who is? The same as Miami’s Big Three triggered the era of player bureau, the Raptors might have broken the seal to other perennial underachievers to follow suit.
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