Raptors president Masai Ujiri: ‘We need a culture reset’

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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Last year, Raptors president Masai Ujiri oversaw signing coach Dwane Casey to a new three-year contract. Shortly before this year’s playoffs, Masai Ujiri said there was “no question” he’d try to re-sign Kyle Lowry.

But after Toronto got swept by the Cavaliers, ending another underwhelming postseason, Ujiri took a different tone in his postseason press conference.

He never said he’d fire Casey or let Lowry leave in free agency. Still, Ujiri opened the door for plenty of tea-leaf reading.

On Toronto’s direction:

I take responsibility first. I blame myself first. I’ve questioned myself. Should I have made those trades? What should we have done? How could I have done better to put these guys in a better situation?

And then, like I said, it goes down. We’re going to hold everybody accountable, because we need to.

After that performance, we need a culture reset here. Like, we need to figure it out. Yeah, there’s been some success, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to win a championship here. To me, making the playoffs is nothing. That was back in the day. Now, we have to figure out how we can win in the playoffs. That’s the goal. I’m not trying to hear all this “super teams” or “super personnel” or whatever.

On losing to the Cavaliers:

The end of the year was disappointing. Let’s call a spade a spade. The end of the year was disappointing for us. That series was disappointing for us. We thought we could do better. I don’t know what it is. We’ve started to study it, and I can’t tell exactly what it is. At a point, we looked wide-eyed. We didn’t make shots, I understand. But I sometimes feel that wasn’t our team that we saw out there, to be honest.

On Casey:

There are things that I questioned. I think our style of play is something that we’re going to really evaluate.

One of the things that I discussed with Coach Casey is how we play. We’ve done it the same time over and over again. Is it going to work the next time? We have to figure that out. The one-on-one basketball we play, we have to question that.

The style of play is something that we need to change. I’ve made it clear, and Coach has acknowledged it, and he’s already thought about it. Just some of the things that we do, it’s not working anymore. I’ve just made it clear that it’s going to be difficult for me to keep changing players, just because of the way the CBA is situated. My short answer to that, honestly, is, yes, there’s commitment, but we are all going to question ourselves. We’re all going to seriously question ourselves now and figure out the best way to do it, because Coach Casey has been a phenomenal part of our success here. In some ways, we owe that to him. But I’ve told him that we all have to be accountable.

On Lowry:

It’s our jobs to try and get Kyle to come back and do it the best way that we possibly can. We want him back. He’s been a huge part of the success here.

You’ve built this thing for a while, and is there another level to it? We have to account for that and be accountable for that. And we have to decide, is this the way we want to go in terms of money spent?

There were mixed signals about Casey’s job security last year before his extension. It doesn’t sound as if he should feel safe now.

Likewise, Lowry probably shouldn’t bank on a full five-year max offer (worth a projected $205 million). Ujiri clearly wants Lowry back, but I’m not sure Ujiri is enthused to pay so much for Lowry from age 31 to 36.With Lowry sounding like he’s dropping hints about leaving, anything less than a full max could push him out the door.

Toronto’s ascent will be stalled until it answers a question: Would an offensive scheme other than Casey’s lead to more playoff success, or are Lowry and DeMar DeRozan ill-suited for postseason basketball? Or both?

There are many sub-questions: Can Casey change his style? Can Lowry and DeRozan change their styles? Who are the alternatives to the coach and players?

Ujiri enters a pivotal offseason, and as he said, there’s still more information to gather. But the early indications are Casey and/or Lowry might not like how it goes.