Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to skip pre-playoff address this year
Fined by NBA for swearing last 2 times
Masai Ujiri has learned his lesson.
The Toronto Raptors' GM said Wednesday he doesn't plan on addressing the team's rabid fans heading into the NBA playoffs.
Toronto opens its best-of-seven first-round series against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.
Twice Ujiri has been fined by the NBA for swearing while speaking to the Raptors' faithful prior to the playoffs. In 2014, he was fined $25,000 US for launching a F-bomb directed at the Brooklyn Nets then had to pay $35,000 last year after uttering an obscenity prior to his club's series with the Washington Wizards.
Toronto lost both opening-round series. Ujiri says he'll take the silent approach this time around, hoping it will help the Raptors' reverse their playoff fortunes. "You know, it hasn't worked for two years," Ujiri told reporters with a chuckle. "I'm 0-2 in that regard and so I think I'll stay away.
"Fans know how much I love them. I also just had a baby boy and he eats too much so I don't know if I have enough money."
The Raptors have certainly been money this year, establishing club records for wins (55) and home victories (32) heading into their regular-season finale Wednesday night in Brooklyn. Toronto captured a third straight Atlantic Division crown and enters the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's second seed behind the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What's more, point-guard Kyle Lowry and forward DeMar DeRozan both participated in the NBA all-star game on their home court.
'Winning takes time'
But for all the regular-season success Toronto has experienced since Ujiri's arrival in 2013, the franchise has struggled in the post-season. The Raptors lost a heart-breaking seven-game series with Brooklyn before being swept last year by Washington.
"It takes time to build, winning takes time," Ujiri said. "We're hopeful we're going to do well but to us, (if) you fail you stand up and you go back and fight, just like we did last year.
"I think some day will come that will equate to big-time winning but we're a growing team. I'm not saying that to take pressure off or divert anything but I think we have to appreciate these guys and the work they've done."
Toronto won the season series with Indiana 3-1 and entering Wednesday's action had recorded 11 more wins than the seventh-seeded Pacers. But Ujiri has a healthy respect for Indiana.
"I think they're a fantastic team, they've got a fantastic player (all-star Paul George) and they're a winning organization," he said. "We all know that, that says a lot about them.
"They're a classy organization."
It appears Toronto forward DeMarre Carroll is ready to contribute in the playoffs. He played 21 minutes in the Raptors' 122-98 home win over Philadelphia on Tuesday night, his third appearance after missing 42 contests following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Carroll could end up defending George in the playoffs. Toronto coveted Carroll's toughness and defensive prowess when it signed the former Atlanta Hawk as a free agent last summer but Ujiri said Carroll's health will dictate how much he plays.
"It's not rocket science . . . that's the kind of guy we were trying to get," he said. "We're not going to put him in a position that's going to affect his future.
"He's not 100 per cent but he's trying to head that way and we'll see how that goes."
Primed for the postseason
Carroll was among four key off-season acquisitions for Toronto — the others being Canadian guard Cory Joseph, power forward Luis Scola and centre Bismack Biyombo. Ujiri feels the Raptors are better equipped heading into the playoffs this year compared to last with the continued maturation of Lowry and DeRozan combined with a more veteran roster.
"I think so and I hope so," he said. "I know mentally these guys are ready.
"It's all about mental toughness, it's all about being ready, it's all about preparation and I think in that regard the players, coaches, I think our whole staff is ready and focused this time. Given that experience of what happened before I think it's good for us. You know what the atmosphere is, you know all of the pressures
that are going to come and the intensity."
But should Toronto again disappoint in the playoffs, it won't cost head coach Dwane Casey his job.
"He has been phenomenal," Ujiri said of his head coach. "He deserves to be our coach in the future because he's put in the work to bring winning to our program.
"The players have responded well I think...and we hope it translates to the playoffs. I am very hopeful it will because he's a defensive-minded coach."