The Raptors announced Friday the hiring of Nuggets executive Masai Ujiri as their next GM.
“We feel very lucky to have Masai in our organization," Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) president and CEO Tim Leiweke said in a statement. "He is a proven judge of talent and we look for him to be a big part of creating a winning atmosphere, leading us to the playoffs and, ultimately, delivering NBA championships for Toronto. I would also like to publicly thank the Kroenkes in Denver for being such a class organization that they would allow Masai to pursue his dream. They put him first in all of our discussions.”
Ujiri, the first African-born GM in NBA history, previously worked in multiple front office positions with the Raptors before getting hired by the Nuggets in 2010. In Denver, he totally transformed the Nuggets roster, establishing a reputation as a shrewd, creative and active executive.
"I would like to thank Stan and Josh Kroenke for the opportunity they have given me over the past three years," Ujiri said in a statement released by the Nuggets on Friday. "It was a very difficult decision to leave Denver, but the Nuggets remain in good hands. I’d also like to thank the coaching staff for their work and the fans for their support and dedication. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the city of Denver and the Nuggets as an organization."
Nuggets president Josh Kroenke, son of owner Stan Kroenke, announced Friday that the organization would open a search for Ujiri's replacement immediately.
"I appreciate everything Masai has done since re-joining the Nuggets in 2010," Kroenke said. "Over the past two and a half years, he and I have spent countless hours working together to tackle some of the toughest challenges in franchise history. I have tremendous admiration for him as a colleague and will always consider him to be a great friend."
Back in April, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment -- the company that oversees the Raptors, the National Hockey League’s Maple Leafs and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC -- hired Leiweke, a former AEG executive. as president and CEO. Leiweke announced earlier this month that Raptors president Bryan Colangelo, who had overseen basketball operations, would be kept on in an advisory role while the organization pursued a new GM.
“Bryan is skilled, knowledgeable and respected across the NBA and will be a resource that we count on to help build the Raptors into Canada’s team,” Leiweke said in a statement, which also noted that the new GM would report directly to him, not Colangelo.
Ujiri's headline move in Denver was the 2011 blockbuster trade of Carmelo Anthony, which netted Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov, among other assets, but he has also swung trades that landed Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Corey Brewer. He’s also done well in the draft, grabbing Kenneth Faried and Evan Fournier, among others, while also locking up point guard Ty Lawson to a four-year extension last fall. Ujiri also signed guard Arron Afflalo and center Nene Hilario to new contracts, only to later flip them in trades for Iguodala and McGee, respectively.
There's no doubt Ujiri, 42, will have his hands full in Toronto, where he inherits a roster that's not particularly talented and a salary cap ledger that's packed to the gills with significant deals to the likes of Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Landry Fields and Amir Johnson.
Denver went 57-25 this season -- good for the NBA's fourth-best record -- and finished with the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets were eliminated by the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Toronto finished 34-48, the tenth-best record in the East, and missed the postseason for the fifth straight season.