Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri isn't focused on the financials of his next contract. If Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment wants to retain arguably the best executive in the NBA, it knows it's going to have to pay up. That part of the negotiation is going to be easy. What Ujiri really wants is a commitment to long-term success.
That's what makes Ujiri so special. He has an unwavering focus on NBA championships. He doesn't get bogged down in the day-to-day ups and downs of the season. Play-in tournament? No thanks, he says. To Ujiri it's all about getting back to the top of the NBA and hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy again.
"Everybody says, 'blank cheque, blank cheque,' but I'm not as much focused on a blank cheque," Ujiri said during his season-ending media availability Wednesday.
Instead, Ujiri wants to keep on moving the organization forward. He knows the NBA is a kill or be killed kind of league. Evolve or die.
"Everybody has forgotten what has happened two years ago. OK, yes, we won, but nobody cares anymore," Ujiri said. "We want to win another one."
When Ujiri joined Toronto as team general manager in 2013, he got to work turning the Raptors into a first-class organization. He named Drake the team's global ambassador in 2013. Two years later he started up the Raptors 905 G League team to turn the team's developmental program into one of the best in the NBA. In 2016, he opened Toronto's state-of-the-art OVO practice facility and later that year he welcomed the eyes of the basketball world to Toronto for All-Star weekend. That's what it took to win the 2019 championship. Now Ujiri is hungry for more.
"I want to know so what's the next lift?" Ujiri said. "What's the next five years? What's the next 10 years? What are we doing to put ourselves in conversation with all the great teams and all the winners?"
He's going to have asks, "a lot" of them, he said. What exactly those are he wouldn't say. He already has assurances from management that the organization will have no trouble spending into the luxury tax whenever the team is ready to make another title push. That won't be a problem, he said. It's the other more tangible and secretive things that he wants assurances for now.
Some of those things are going to have to come from MLSE being more assertive with the NBA in helping Toronto succeed in the league's only Canadian market. The league has already done a lot to accommodate the Raptors, but Ujiri wants more. He wants Toronto's situation taken into account in every NBA discussion.
"I’m sure sometimes it’s a pain in the ass sometimes for them. But guess what? That is the business you have put yourself in. You have put yourself on a global platform that you have one team in the NBA that is outside the United States and we have to be considered in every single way," he said. "We need to grow in our minds. We need to be visionaries. We need to think big in this league on how we consider these things. We are trying to make the game really big and global, which I think the NBA is doing an incredible job of, but there are many issues that I think we have to address in terms of us."
Returning to Toronto only re-emphasized how much more the league and ownership need to do for the organization, he said. The Raptors are still without a home for this year and will be conducting their pre-draft operations from Tampa and next year still remains up in the air.
At some point in the next few days, Ujiri is going to sit down with MLSE and go over his list of demands. He'll have options, he said. There are things outside of sports that could interest him. But at the same time he's not naive to the platform the Raptors, especially a winning Raptors organization, can give him to help accomplish those things outside of basketball.
While Ujiri wouldn't give a timeline for when those negotiations will take place he did mention his trip to Africa that's coming up in a couple of days. It seemed like a hint as he chuckled responding to a question about that timeline. Whenever it does happen, MLSE better come with the same level of enthusiasm for winning as Ujiri has. Anything less would be a big mistake.