Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri knows he took a risk in trading franchise icon DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. Ujiri is hoping, though, that his gamble will pay off in a championship for the Raptors.
Ujiri addressed the media in Toronto this afternoon and discussed Wednesday's blockbuster trade that saw DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick in 2019 head to San Antonio for Leonard and veteran guard Danny Green.
"On paper we feel we have a team that can compete in the East and hopefully to compete for a championship in this league. That's why we play sports, is to compete for championships," Ujiri said. “We have been doing this for how many years? You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over.
"At this point, we got to the level where this opportunity came to us, and we had to jump on it.”
Leonard was not at Friday's news conference, but said the team has seen some of medical reports on Leonard. The Spurs' star was limited to nine games in 2017-18 because of a lingering right quadriceps injury and made it known early in the offseason he sought a trade.
“Without the medical drama, you have no chance to talk to a player like this. He would still be in San Antonio,” Ujiri said.
Since being dealt to Toronto -- a move that seemed to please neither player -- concerns have been raised about whether or not Leonard will stay with the Raptors long term. That talk is something Ujiri is aware of, yet is also something he has yet to encounter himself with Leonard or his representation.
"He (Kawhi) has not expressed that he doesn’t want to play in Canada to me," Ujiri said. “I think there’s a lot to sell here: our team, our culture, our city, our ownership. We have everything here except a championship, in my humble opinion.
“That’s my job. That’s why I am in this seat. To try to figure that part out. I’ve had conversations with Kawhi, his agent and his uncle and everything has gone well. I’m looking forward to meeting them.”
The initially positive vibes between player and team were tweeted out on the Raptors' social media account Friday evening after Leonard arrived in Toronto. The post included a photo of Leonard with Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster.
Welcome to the North pic.twitter.com/FWy6huVI9l— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) July 20, 2018
Before the trade happened, ESPN had reported the Raptors' brass had met with DeRozan during NBA Summer League and told him he would not be traded.
As word of the trade circulated the NBA social media atmosphere on Wednesday, DeRozan took to Instagram and posted a story there that read: "Be told one thing & the outcome another. Ain't no loyalty in this game. Sell you out for a quick bit of nothing ... Soon you'll understand ... Don't disturb."
As reports involving the Raptors possibly trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard escalate, here is DeMar’s IG story: pic.twitter.com/Wbb72mw0qR— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) July 18, 2018
Ujiri on Friday said he will do "anything in his power" to honor DeRozan in the future. He also opened his news conference by apologizing to DeRozan for a "gap in miscommunication" leading up to the trade.
"I want to not only apologize to DeMar DeRozan for a gap of miscommunication but also to acknowledge him and what he's done here with the Raptors, for the city, and for the country," Ujiri said. "There's no measure to what this kid has done."
Masai on DeMar pic.twitter.com/KaoSDXIyZH— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) July 20, 2018
"I had a conversation with DeMar at Summer League, and I really want to leave it at that ... I think maybe my mistake is talking about what we expected from him going forward. DeMar has done so much for this organization. When you’re in my position you always have to be open in what you can do. Both of us had a conversation, and me and DeMar know what that conversation was. Maybe I could have handled it better. That’s what I’m apologizing for.
"He's the greatest player to play for the Raptors to this point. No one can dispute that."
News of the reported deal broke early Wednesday as the Raptors and Spurs reportedly engaged in serious talks involving the Raptors acquiring the two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year and former NBA Finals MVP Leonard. The details of the trade were still being worked out early Wednesday, but centered on Leonard and DeRozan, writes Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania.
Leonard's future was a subject of league-wide fascination ever since it was first reported he wanted to leave the only team for which he has played. Despite attempts by the Spurs -- including a try by Popovich -- to mend the relationship, Leonard and his camp steadfastly maintained their distance as the offseason has worn on.
The strain between Leonard and San Antonio built throughout the 2017-18 campaign as the former 15th overall pick dealt with a quad injury that kept him from playing in all but nine games. The unusual recovery time was compounded by his physical separation from the team, as Leonard continued his rehab in New York. His absence was especially notable during the Spurs' first-round playoff exit to the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was then spotted at a Los Angeles Dodgers home game three weeks later.
Los Angeles had long been reported as Leonard's preferred destination. Talks between the Spurs and Lakers reportedly took place on more than one occasion, but never gained enough momentum for completion.Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.