Ranking top 4 NBA General Managers: Where Houston Rockets’ Daryl Morey Lands
2. Masai Ujiri-Toronto Raptors
Masai Ujiri took over the Toronto Raptors as the General Manager ahead of the 2013-2014 NBA season. Prior to that point, the Raptors had missed the playoffs in each of the previous five years. However, in Uriri’s first year with the Raptors, the team went 48-34 and made the postseason despite Ujiri trading away Rudy Gay, who was one of the team’s best players at the time.
Toronto hasn’t missed the playoffs since the arrival of Ujiri. Ujiri has always been a General Manager who has never been afraid to go against the grain, which is evidenced by ultimately two franchise-changing decisions. For starters, at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season, Ujiri made the decision to part ways with then coach Dwane Casey. This was an intriguing decision because Casey had just guided the Raptors to a franchise record 59 wins, later being named Coach of the Year.
The second of the shocking moves was the decision to part ways with franchise player DeMar DeRozan. This was the biggest example of Ujiri’s willingness to make moves at all costs in hopes of lifting the team to contender status, as DeRozan is still the franchise leader in games played and points scored. DeRozan was the franchise player and was named an All-Star in each of the three seasons prior to being traded. Not only that, DeRozan had a close relationship with Kyle Lowry, who was also an integral piece of the Raptors. As one could imagine, Ujiri’s decision to trade DeRozan wasn’t a very popular one to Lowry, and even caused a rift between Lowry and Ujiri.
The conventional thinking was that the Raptors’ Achilles heel was LeBron James, and he had already changed conferences and joined the Los Angeles Lakers. So the 2018-2019 was going to be the Raptors year in theory, with the Cleveland Cavaliers dismantled, as many thought. However, Ujiri made the decision to blow up the Raptors and trade DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, who had become disgruntled with the team over its handling of an injury he sustained.
This was a risky move by Ujiri as Leonard only had one year left on his contract before he had the ability to exercise his player option and rumors were swirling that he wanted to go back to his hometown of Southern California. Despite that, Ujiri made the decision to go all in and trade for Kawhi, in hopes of convincing him to stay in Toronto. That decision led to the first NBA title in Raptors franchise history, which made the moves all worth it. However, Leonard eventually left, but at least Ujiri and the Raptors got a championship out of it.
Ujiri also drafted forward Pascal Siakam, who was named the Most Improved Player of the 2018-2019 season.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Ujiri was willing to trade away a star player, as he did the same thing when he was the General Manager of the Denver Nuggets and traded away former Houston Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony. Ujiri later was named Executive of the Year in 2013, as the Nuggets were actually a better team after getting rid of Carmelo Anthony.