Masai Ujiri is the new general manager — technically Executive Vice President of Basketball operations — for the Denver Nuggets.
Which led a lot of people to say, “who?” But over at TrueHoop they have the story of how he went from a former European player crashing on couches and trying to get part-time gig anywhere in the league to a guy with one of the most coveted jobs in the NBA.
David Thorpe — the Executive Director of the Pro Training Center, ESPN writer and just generally one of the good guys — helped Ujiri get his start.
It sounded like he had a good feel for where the good international players were playing. From Africa, and all over Europe. He knew all kinds of players, it seemed, who could help U.S. high school or college programs. I wasn’t even thinking about the pros at that point.
I told him it was a few weeks until the Final Four in Atlanta. I wasn’t sure I had room for him to stay with me, but if he could get there I would meet him there and introduce him to everyone I could… We went to dinner with [Florida State coaches] Leonard Hamilton and Stan Jones. Within minutes he and Leonard Hamilton were good friends. We met all kinds of people all weekend. You know how people talk about videos spreading virally on the Internet? Masai spread virally that weekend. By the time Sunday rolled around, he had meetings set up with all kinds of coaches. People I had never met. Everyone wanted him to help them find good players at every level.
Masai kept working, kept bringing good players in from places people hadn’t been, and kept meeting people and shaking hands. He kept working hard. It took a couple years of doing that for nothing before the Magic hired him as an overseas scout. And kept working and sleeping on couches.
NBA scouts kind of do one of two things. They either go by themselves and work alone, or go where everybody else is and meet all the other scouts and basketball people. Masai did the latter. He met everybody. He became friends with everybody. After a couple of years, Denver came calling [and made him a scout]. Then he got a real job. No more staying with friends. That was the last time I ever helped him get a job. By the time Toronto wanted to hire him, he was far beyond needing my help.
Go read the whole post. It makes you appreciate how hard Ujiri worked to get where he is. We talked about how Josh Kroenke — the soon-to-be owner with a basketball background — will have the real power with the Nuggets. But that shouldn’t get in the way of the Ujiri story. The NBA could use more of that.
Blake Griffin almost got away with it.
During Friday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Griffin gave Cavs forward Jae Crowder an unhelpful knee to the groin during a post isolation.
Griffin wasn’t whistled for anything on the play, and in fact Crowder was assessed a foul after Griffin made his move to the basket.
Now, the NBA has given Griffin a Flagrant 1 for unnecessary contact.
Video of the incident can be viewed above the article here, but it’s pretty egregious and indeed the Cavaliers announcers even suggested at the time that it might warrant a flagrant.
Looks like the NBA agreed.
Cleveland beat LA, 118-113, in OT.
LeBron James totally dissed New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina. Or maybe he was just complimenting Dennis Smith Jr., and Enes Kanter likes to get in the middle of things? Or perhaps it was a barely-veiled shot at former Knicks president Phil Jackson?
No matter which way you view this little NBA drama, there’s some kind of silver lining to take away for New York after LeBron got a little too close for comfort with Ntilikina during a recent matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
According to Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, that silver lining is how well Ntilikina, Kanter, and the rest of the squad did when standing up to James.
Via the NY Post:
“I thought it was great,’’ he said on the newest edition of “The Jeff Hornacek Experience” that debuts Friday night on MSG Networks after the Knicks face the Raptors. “When we played back in the day, there was a lot of that. So you don’t see as much now in today’s game.
“But, you know, whether the comments from LeBron were aimed at Frank or the Knicks or Phil [Jackson] or whatever it was, I was happy that Frank gave him a little shove and then when LeBron stood in front of him and Enes jumped in there. That’s kind of the chemistry that gets developed when guys are playing for each other. You saw Enes jump right in the middle of this and said, ‘Nah you’re not gonna do this to my young guy.’ So that’s a great sign to see the togetherness of our guys.”
So to recap:
1. LeBron was taking a shot at Phil.
2. Enes Kanter didn’t like that.
3. Jeff Hornacek likes that.
Clear? Ok, good.
Joel Embiid has a reputation around the league already, and for good reason.
The man who continuously lobbied Rihanna to give him a chance for a date has other NBA players hoping they beat the Philadelphia 76ers just to avoid Embiid’s trash talking.
Indeed, the Golden State Warriors beat Philly on Saturday night, 124-116, thanks in part to a huge rally in the second half. A 22-point deficit had to be overcome for Golden State, and not just to add to their win column.
The team also wanted to sidestep Embiid’s silver tongue:
Both Draymond Green and Kevin Durant said they wanted to keep Embiid at bay. Durant’s comment was particularly funny, and can be seen in the video at the top of the article (fair warning, Durant used some NSFW language).
The Process is now The Reputation.
One of the NBA’s more under appreciated forwards has announced his retirement from the NBA.
David Lee, who spent time in his career with the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs, told the NBA world about his retirement via his Instagram page on Sunday.
Lee, 34, played last season with the Spurs. He averaged 7.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists for Gregg Popovich’s team.
Lee played 14 seasons in the NBA, the majority of which came with the Knicks. During his time in New York, Lee was seen as an unsung hero, nabbing rebounds and doing yeoman’s work from the power forward position.
The Knicks traded Lee to Golden State in the summer of 2010 for Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and two second round picks. He was part of the Warriors’ 2014-15 NBA Championship before eventually being traded to Boston in 2015.