Masai Ujiri made a tough decision over the summer when he traded one of the most accomplished players in Raptors franchise history, DeMar DeRozan, to the Spurs in exchange for a potential MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard. From a basketball perspective, the trade did exactly what was necessary. Ujiri took a team that was constantly spinning its wheels in early playoff exits and made it a potential contender by adding Leonard to the mix.
However, the DeRozan trade didn’t sit well with everybody. He gave everything to the Raptors and by trading him it felt like a betrayal of loyalty. Everybody knows loyalty doesn’t ever truly exist in sports, but it still hurts at the end of the day when a forced breakup occurs. Ujiri recently spoke about his decision to trade DeRozan on ESPN’s The Jump and you can tell it bothered him on a personal level, but he had to make the move that was best for the team.
“We thought, ‘We have to change. We have to be better,'” Ujiri said, referring to the Raptors’ perennial ouster from the playoffs. “We have to be better; we have to win. The game is all about winning and treating people the right way. And honestly … god bless DeMar. What I did wrong was trade him. Yes, that’s what I did wrong if it’s wrong. You know, like, we traded players, but nothing else I did; there’s nothing else.”
The front office has to be able to make tough moves like Ujiri did. A team can’t get better by playing nice with the roster. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made and you have to let guys get angry at your decisions. Even the players he kept, like Kyle Lowry, were upset with Ujiri’s decision, per ESPN.
“I felt betrayed because he felt betrayed because that is my guy,” Lowry said. “That’s my best friend. So yeah, I felt some kind of way on the personal side. But the business side, you understand that you got to go out here and do your job. You get a trade, your job is still to go out there and play.”
It’s still surprising though to see Ujiri admit that in a way what he did was wrong. On a personal level, he understands that by trading DeRozan he did something you’re not supposed to do. He really has to hope that what he does with Leonard works in some capacity whether it’s in the short term or long term. Otherwise, he will always be the guy that traded away a franchise legend for a one year rental that didn’t pan out.
Of course, right now, nobody seems all that bothered by his decision considering the Raptors have the best team in the NBA and Leonard looks like an MVP candidate again. If Ujiri’s goal was to make a better basketball team, then he’s so far succeeded.