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The truth is nobody has fun this season.

It’s been clear for months now that something was off within the Toronto Raptors organization. The magic that had carried the team for the better part of the last decade had vanished. The culture that Toronto once prided itself on had fractured.

“This year was not us,” said Raptors president and vice-chairman Masai Ujiri during his long-awaited season-ending media availability. “I did not enjoy watching this team play. I think that spoke loud and clear to everything that went on this year. It bothered all of us. It bothered coach, too.”

The easy starting spot for any team needing a change is the coach. Toronto made the decision Friday morning to dismiss Nick Nurse after a decade with the organization and five years as the head coach. It wasn’t an easy decision, Ujiri said, but a necessary one.


The answer is more complicated. Nurse’s hyper-aggressive style had begun to wear on players. Toronto had lost its spirit and “that feel of togetherness,” Ujiri said. There’d also been a concerning lack of development from some of Toronto’s younger players. Malachi Flynn, Dalano Banton, and Chrisitan Koloko, even Precious Achiuwa hadn’t shown the growth or been given enough leash to succeed under Nurse’s tutelage.

“One of the things we talked about was maybe utilizing some of these (younger) players a little bit more,” Ujiri said. “Like giving them room to actually show if they have or if they don’t have (it). I think we didn’t do so well with that this year. I think that hurt us some in developing our young players.”

In fairness to Nurse, none of those players ran with their opportunities this season and part of that is on Ujiri for not providing the Raptors with a deeper, more talented roster. He accepted blame for that, especially Toronto’s lack of shooting which he acknowledged the team needed more of.

There’s an expectation that changes will come to the roster too. Ujiri is planning “big changes” a term he used to describe what the organization will go through this offseason, coaching staff, and assistant coaches included.

“I think changes are going to be made on all fronts,” Ujiri added. “We saw how different players on our team would rise, would do well. But we never did it collectively. Maybe that could be fit. Maybe that could be system, sometimes role orientation, sometimes accountability — all the things we are going to really look at in how our roster is built. We believe in the players we have. Whether it’s tweaks or major changes, we’re definitely going to look at everything.”

It was notable to hear Ujiri mention the selfishness he saw in the team, reemphasizing a comment he made following the trade deadline. To him, it wasn’t about contracts or pending free agents because Toronto has a track record of taking care of its own players. Prior to the trade deadline, that pertained most notably to Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., two soon-to-be free agents this summer. Jakob Poeltl joined that list following the trade deadline.

“But some people would say accolades and all the different things that players can get or what they’re gunning for,” Ujiri continued.

“Did that happen because of the system or different things that we did, or was it them individually? Again, I’m not going to point fingers now. I just want to know how we’re going to do better.”

Getting better isn’t going to be easy. Toronto has already traded its 2024 first-round pick top-six protected and is prohibited from trading its 2025, 2026, and 2027 first-round picks outright until the 2024 pick conveys to the San Antonio Spurs. VanVleet, Trent, and Poeltl, three of Toronto’s top-six players are all free agents and it’s extremely rare for teams to improve through a sign-and-trade.

Save for trading Scottie Barnes whose rookie-scale contract makes it hard to return a player of commensurate value, Toronto is left with just two options to move in any significant trades: O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.

The Raptors remain confident, at least publicly, that Siakam, 29, and Barnes, 21, can both have primes that align for the organization. But looking at Toronto’s roster and the dearth of shooting, keeping the 25-year-old Anunoby who led the Raptors in three-point shooting and has a more seamless timeline fit alongside Barnes’ peak could make Siakam the odd man out.

Those decisions are coming and are no doubt being discussed internally. For now, though, it’s about finding a coach to lead the way. Toronto has no timeline on when that decision will be made, Ujiri said. Ideally, the organization would like to have someone by the NBA Draft on June 22.

What will the Raptors be looking for in their next frontman?

“Character. Quality of a person. Energy. What kind of energy are we going to get because we need that? Discipline, style of play. So many things we’re going to look to as we start this search,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri has been here before and regardless of how things ended with the Raptors and Nurse, Toronto made the right call at the time, opting to bring in Nurse to replace Dwane Casey. It was a promotion from within for an organization that had prided itself on stability and continuity.

Now, though, it’s time for a change, and nailing this decision will set the course for the next half-decade or more of Raptors basketball.

Further Reading

O.G. Anunoby says the right things, but Raptors face decision with complicated extension

Scottie Barnes acknowledges he can do better this summer as Raptors key on his development

Raptors locked into 13th spot in draft lottery with 1% chance at top selection