COMMENTARY | They say the first cut is always the deepest, but in the case of Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors, his first cut into the franchise this past weekend looks to be only the starting point.
Last weekend Ujiri made his first imprint on the franchise when he relieved Ed Stefanski of his front office duties, Jim Kelly was removed from the scouting staff after 18 years and plenty of other members of the front office were given pink slips.
Turns out those moves were only a glimpse of what Ujiri has in store as it looks like the Toronto Raptors will be a vastly different team in the near future.
"We are committed to changing the culture on and off the court," an emphatic Ujiri told the media during his introductory press conference this morning.
That bold declaration doesn't mean he's going to rip apart the roster this summer or that those changes will come as soon as some fans may like.
"We are going to build the right way," Ujiri went on to explain. "Sometimes it may take patience."
What has fans of the team calling into radio talk shows and posting on online message boards is the fact a large number of players that had big roles on the team last season could be headed elsewhere. Andrea Bargani, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Landry Fields, and Kyle Lowry all started games for the team last season while Linas Kleiza has looked great the past two summers during international play. None of those players should feel confident about their chances of playing for the Raptors next season.
While all of those players where held in high esteem by Bryan Colangelo, there's no reason to think Ujiri feels the same way. Clearly Time Leiweke and Ujiri have an issue with the culture as shown by the gutting of the front office and coaching staff.
Ujiri told the media this afternoon that he has communicated with the majority of players on the roster and plans to reach out to the remaining players within the next few days. It stands to reason those initial conversations will also play a part in how Ujiri views and feels about some players.
One player who is sure to be gone is Bargnani - the only question surrounding him is if he has any value via a trade or if the trade will amnesty him. If the Raptors aren't able to trade Bargnani then it looks likely the team will amnesty Kleiza to get out from under the final year of his contract.
Where things start to get cloudy is with Toronto's glut of wings. DeRozan starts the first year of a bloated four-year contract next season, but Gay has two years at the same total amount. With neither player being a strong defender or shooter from the perimeter it makes the duo redundant.
Fields struggled shooting the ball last season due to a wrist injury and if he can't hit open looks he looks to be redundant and to have an albatross of a contract due to a huge bump in the third year of his contract.
Another interesting player is Lowry. The team has a couple of weeks to decide on if they want to pick up the option on his contract for next season (a modest $6.2 million) and if they don't they only owe him $1 million. Last season Lowry and Dwane Casey butted heads and Lowry vastly underperformed so it might be wise to part ways. However, with the team in salary cap hell, that might not be a viable move financially. It also wouldn't make sense to trade him and take back a larger contract unless Bargnani or DeRozan were part of that deal.
This weekend saw a flurry of moves which were clearly just the tip of the iceberg, It now appears to be a waiting game as Ujiri patiently adds to his front office staff and goes about meticulously evaluating the players currently on the roster.
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- Toronto Raptors
- Masai Ujiri
- Kyle Lowry