NBA: Toronto Raptors-Media Day

In his opening statement at his press conference on Thursday, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri said, "It's a tough couple weeks for us here with the trades we've made." The previous day, Toronto traded Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers. Just before the new year, the team traded OG Anunoby to the New York Knicks. Both were drafted by the Raptors, and both have championship rings from the 2019 season.

Later in the hourlong media availability, Ujiri said that he'd recently had an "incredible" and "honest" conversation with Siakam in Los Angeles. He also said, however, that he could have been more communicative with the two-time All-Star during the 2023 offseason.

"I think the lines of communication in the summer were not that great," Ujiri told reporters. "Just because sometimes I don't have answers. And sometimes the answer that I'm giving you is the same answer that I'm going to give you the next time I speak to you. But based on my relationship, Pascal deserved that I even gave him the over-communication, which I didn't, and I apologized to him for it. I apologized to him before the season started, and I apologized to him again recently. So that part, I'm not particularly proud of, but there are so many things in our business that bring about this type of communication or non-communication."

The pair of trades, Uijri said, gives Toronto what it was looking for as it builds around Scottie Barnes, who won Rookie of the Year in 2022 and might make his first All-Star appearance next month.

"When you look at both trades, I think we accomplished a couple things that we are trying to do, if you put them together," Ujiri said. "Young players, picks and flexibility of our team going into the future. And that's how strategically we have to look at this."

The Raptors could have charted a course like this before last season's deadline or before this season began. Why now?

"Obviously, I think the uncertainty of free agency is a big factor," Ujiri said. "I think we also looked at the trend of the team. We've tried to give it as much time as we can. And I know there are a lot of questions after last season -- 'Why didn't we do something at the trade deadline?' -- but we look at the fits of the team, we looked at the emergence of Scottie and we've also looked at the age, and coming down a little bit younger and growing. Honestly, a lot of factors."

Siakam and Anunoby are both set to be free agents this summer, and they are due hefty paydays. The whole league knew Toronto would have to figure out what it was going to do with them eventually, which is why their names have been in trade rumors for more than a year.

"I am patient," Ujiri said. "I was maybe to a fault. I was patient with that team last year because I believed in them. I believed in those players, I believed in what they brought. But now we have to look to the future."

Despite that "maybe to a fault" line, Ujiri repeatedly defended the decision to trade their top-six protected pick in this year's draft to the San Antonio Spurs for Jakob Poeltl at last year's deadline. "We thought it was good value to get a starting center for a pick," Ujiri said. "And we still think that." He also said that, in his opinion, last year's roster "deserved us to give them more than half a season" before giving up on it. 

Asked directly if he wishes he had traded Siakam or Anunoby sooner, Ujiri said, "No, I don't."

Ujiri said that the front office looked at possible trades around last year's draft and again in the offseason, and "what was available was not what we wanted to do." He said that the return the Raptors eventually got "pretty much balances out" when compared to the offers that were on the table back then.

"This is what was there for us," Ujiri said. "And we measured it with what was there for us in the past. And it was consistent. And we decided to move on it."

Toronto will likely have three first-round picks in this June's draft, plus an early second-rounder, but that doesn't mean Ujiri is suddenly all-in on a draft class that is widely regarded to be weaker than average. "We have to look at it as flexibility," he said. "You can consolidate these picks. You don't have to pick 'em. You can trade 'em." For a team that is not in win-now mode, it is best to have more future firsts coming in than going out.

"Are we going to take three picks in that draft? I strongly doubt it, that's not the plan for now," Ujiri said. "But I think we'll make good use [of them] and we'll scout it the best possible way we can."

Asked about the possibility of retaining Siakam and revisiting the trade market later, Ujiri said, "I've gone into every detail, every single detail. My team has gone into every single detail on how we measure him staying or us doing this deal. And fit comes into it. And when we think of fit, we think strategically, we think on the court, with Scottie Barnes, who has emerged to be the player we are going to like build around. And also we have to think about financials." 

Left unsaid was that, if signed to a long-term, more lucrative contract, Siakam's trade value could have decreased. Siakam turns 30 in April.

Ujiri said that "the hardest thing to do" as an NBA executive is to find a player like Barnes. He said he doesn't have an answer as to how long Toronto's rebuild will take, but the front office is studying it, as it tries to surround Barnes with players that maximize him.

"I think we started with Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett," Ujiri said. "Shooting, I think athletic players, players with basketball IQ, young players. We have to start building spacing. Those kind of things are going to be important." 

As well as praising the guys the Raptors got from the Knicks, Ujiri described Bruce Brown, acquired from Indiana, as "one of the toughest players in the NBA." He said he was excited to see Kira Lewis Jr. and Jordan Nwora, noting that he's good friends with Nwora's father and has known the wing since he was five. Asked about trying to push for the play-in this season versus trying to maximize the odds of retaining their protected pick, Ujiri said they will "play the right way," implying that, at least for now, there's no plan to repeat the "Tampa Tank" that brought them Barnes in 2021.

"We are going to play to win," Ujiri said. "We are going to coach these guys and teach them and play to win. Whatever that brings us, we will deal with and we will prepare for. We are going to be well prepared for any scenario that comes our way."