The 2021 playoffs will begin May 22 without a familiar team in the mix: the Toronto Raptors. After seven straight playoff appearances and one championship run, Toronto is sitting home for the offseason after a disappointing 27-45 season.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri has fond memories of Toronto’s run to the NBA title in 2019, but isn’t comforting himself with the past. Ujiri, who is seeking a new contract with the Raptors, spoke with the media on Wednesday about his goals for the team and did not mince words.
In short: missing out on the State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament isn’t bothering him anywhere near as much as missing out on another legitimate Finals run is.
“This is all about winning a championship again. Everybody has forgotten what happened two years ago,” Ujiri said. “Yes, we won. Nobody cares anymore. We want to win another one. Not play in the Play-In game, not play in the playoffs. You want to win a championship.
“Everybody’s like, ‘why don’t you get in the Play-In?’ Play-In for what? We want to win a championship here.”
2020-21 Closing thoughts: Masai Ujiri pic.twitter.com/i6LOgIGahy
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 19, 2021
Ujiri said there was nothing new to report on the status of his contract, but said he plans to talk with ownership soon about it. Michael Grange of Sportsnet reported earlier this week that the Raptors have “mounting confidence” they will be able to re-sign Ujiri. His deal expires at the end of the 2021 playoffs and Ujiri has said throughout the season he would discuss a deal in the offseason.
Masai Ujiri says there's nothing new to report on his contract status, plans to sit down with ownership soon. "Weigh a few of the options and give this thing some deep thought now as I go through this process."
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 19, 2021
The Raptors haven’t played in Canada since February 2020 and had to make do in Tampa this season. They dealt with injuries, along with players and most of the coaching staff missing games for coronavirus-related issues.
The Raptors got off to a slow start, seemed to find their stride about a month into the year and were looking very much like a playoff team until those virus problems presented themselves. Toronto, which needed the temporary home this season because of the challenge that crossing the U.S.-Canada border during a pandemic would present, wasn’t the same since.
Ujiri told reporters that playing away from Toronto was difficult on the team and wore on them as the season progressed.
“It’s been a tough year,” Ujiri said. “It’s been really mentally draining, it’s been challenging … We have been incredibly disadvantaged from (the relocation to Tampa). The displacement did not work out well.”
Additionally, Ujiri says the Raptors are still waiting to find out if they can play in Canada next season.
“We are very determined and we want to come back and play,” Ujiri said. “We have no interest in going to play anywhere else… Tampa was good to us, but Tampa is not Toronto.”
Ujiri says they still haven't gotten assurance from the government that they'll be able to start next season in Toronto. "We are very determined & we want to come back & play… We have no interest in going to play anywhere else… Tampa was good to us but Tampa is not Toronto"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 19, 2021
The Raptors were 9-3 in a three-week stretch spanning late January and most of February, getting themselves into the thick of the Eastern Conference race. That’s when players and coaches were lost to the virus-related issues, and Toronto lost 15 of its next 17 games. Toronto was officially eliminated from Play-In Tournament contention when the Indiana Pacers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on May 10.
Roster continuity problems were present, too. Last season, the Raptors used 18 starting lineups in 72 regular-season games. This season, again playing exactly 72 games, they used 38 starting lineups.
Star guard Kyle Lowry is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, as are guard Gary Trent Jr., forward Stanley Johnson and center Khem Birch (who was added late in the season).
The 35-year-old Lowry averaged 17.2 points in 46 games for the Raptors this past season, his ninth with the team. He officially becomes a free agent in August; the window where teams can talk to players about contracts actually begins during the 2021 Olympic Games, which Lowry is still weighing participating in.
The Raptors will try to keep Lowry this summer, though it remains anyone’s guess if he will remain in Toronto. Lowry said a multitude of factors — contract length, money, his family’s happiness — will go into his decision on whether to stay in Toronto or play elsewhere.
“I want more championships,” Lowry said. “That’s always been the goal. Money comes with that, but championships are a big key in why I play this game.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.