Raptors trying to woo top GM Masai Ujiri away from Nuggets
Was Toronto assistant GM before joining Denver
Masai Ujiri has done a masterful job of reshaping the Nuggets into a Western Conference contender ever since Carmelo Anthony forced his way out of Denver.
With nary an All-Star this season, the Nuggets won a franchise record 57 games and went an NBA-best 38-3 at home, helping Ujiri garner the NBA's Executive of the Year honour to go with George Karl's Coach of the Year award.
Now, the Nuggets reportedly might lose Ujiri.
Yahoo Sports reported Friday that the Nuggets are allowing Ujiri to meet with the Toronto Raptors about their GM vacancy. The Nuggets didn't return messages from The Associated Press.
Yahoo reported that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke is prepared to offer Ujiri $3 million annually to return to Toronto, where he was assistant GM for three years before joining the Nuggets in 2010.
Denver has a history of paying its front-office architects below market salaries, from Kiki Vandeweghe to Mark Warkentien and Ujiri, who's one of the league's lowest-paid GMs with an annual salary south of $1 million.
Team president Josh Kroenke said earlier this month he didn't think there would be any hiccups in signing Ujiri to a new long-term deal — his current contract expires June 30 — and Ujiri has repeatedly said he wants to stay in Denver.
The Raptors recently stripped Bryan Colangelo of final say on basketball matters, extending his contract as team president but embarking on a search for a new general manager.
Worked with Raptors from 2007 to 2010
The Raptors were 10th in the Eastern Conference this year, finishing out of the playoffs for a franchise-worst fifth straight season.
Leiweke was hired last month after a successful period in charge of Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS.
Leiweke addressed concerns that keeping Colangelo around would complicate things for any new hire by stressing that the new GM will have complete authority on basketball matters and will report directly to Leiweke, not Colangelo.
Colangelo said he understood the message from his new boss, saying, "The bottom line is, if I get in the way, I'm not going to be around."
A native of Nigeria and the first African-born GM in America's four major sports, Ujiri has deep roots with both teams.
He was a scout for the Nuggets from 2003-07 before joining the Raptors as director of global scouting. He was promoted in 2008 to assistant Raptors GM and returned to Denver on Aug. 27, 2010, where he was handed the Melo-drama with Anthony demanding a trade to the New York Knicks.
After finally engineering the blockbuster deal that next February, Ujiri famously apologized, saying, "We feel we got killed in the trade because we lost a couple of pretty good players. Obviously, Carmelo Anthony, I feel sad for the city of Denver. I feel bad this was done on my watch. To lose a guy like that. And also Chauncey (Billups). But I think we had to do it. We had to do this trade. We had to move on and give this city hope."
The trade turned out to be a win-win for both teams: Denver landed a bevy of young players, trade exemptions and draft picks Ujiri used to retool the roster, and the Knicks got a bona fide superstar to build a team around.