The Toronto Raptors might have lost Kyle Lowry, but the other face of the franchise is sticking around long-term.
The Toronto Raptors might have lost Kyle Lowry, but the other face of the franchise is sticking around long-term.
Masai Ujiri, the team’s president, has agreed to a long-term deal, the Raptors confirmed Thursday. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the contract elevates Ujiri to vice-chairman of the Raptors and the team confirmed.
“I love being the leader of the Toronto Raptors. I am here to stay,” Ujiri said in a statement.
Ujiri was only 42 in 2013 when he was lured back to Toronto from the Denver Nuggets to run the Raptors. Since then, he has built the franchise into a force in the Eastern Conference and eventually the 2019 NBA champions. The bold trade of franchise icon DeMar DeRozan for eventual Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green became his signature move.
Ujiri has since preached that the work isn’t done. He does not want to stop at just one championship for the Raptors.
He consistently put off signing a new deal with the club and, most recently, at a season-ending media availability in May, was not shy about asking for Raptors ownership, the NBA and the Canadian government to step up in terms of committing to doing what it takes to chase further championships; doing more to recognize and support the unique needs of Canada’s only NBA franchise and getting the team back to its real home, respectively.
The Raptors announced in February that general manager Bobby Webster had signed a multi-year extension. Webster became GM in June 2017, not long after Jeff Weltman left for the Orlando Magic.
Ujiri had long said taking care of his team was important to him — and the first order of business before his own deal.
“My staff is pretty much done and there’s just been so much … honestly, it’s not a matter of like not doing it, I think there’s just been so much that I know I’ve pushed it out until I think we get through a lot of this,” Ujiri had said before the temporary move to Tampa.
“It’s just so much going on with this relocation and the focus and I don’t want to be distracted that way but in terms of staff, there was even some distraction with that, because Bobby was the last one but I think we are sealing it. There’s no issues, so, I would consider that done soon enough,” Ujiri said.
Two months later, Webster’s deal was completed.
“I go into this thing with a very positive mind and attitude and we hope that it goes that way,” Ujiri had said months ago about a return to the Raptors.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment co-owner Larry Tanenbaum had consistently said he expected Ujiri to be back.
“Great sportsmen impact their games. Great leaders impact their communities. Masai Ujiri does both, and we’re very pleased he is returning to the Raptors as vice-chairman and president,” Tanenbaum said in a statement Thursday. “Masai and MLSE share the goals of bringing another NBA Championship to Toronto, and off the court, working towards making our city, country and world a better place. These are exciting times, and we look forward to all that comes next for our team, for Masai and for his family. Masai, we’re glad you’re staying home.”
Right after the Raptors won the 2019 championship, Wojnarowski reported that the Washington Wizards were tabling a massive offer to Ujiri. Tanenbaum said at the time, “I know Masai, he’s like my son. There is no chance he’s leaving Toronto … I think if you ask Masai, he’s got everything he wants.”
Tanenbaum is chairman of the Raptors, Ujiri will now become vice-chairman, a rarity for non-team owners. (Tanenbaum is also chairman of the board of the NBA, the first Canadian to hold that title). The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a vice-chairman. Brendan Shanahan holds the president and alternate governor titles for the Leafs and Ujiri already held those titles on the Raptors side before his new deal.
The Raptors will officially see Lowry head to the Miami Heat on Friday in a sign-and-trade deal.
Losing Ujiri too would have been an equally bitter pill for the Toronto fan base.
Instead, he will preside over a retool, mixing the existing solid core, which has championship-level experience, with up-and-coming talent like fourth overall draft selection Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent and Precious Achiuwa, who is the key return in the Lowry deal.
Following their Game 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews said the plan for the series deciding matchup was simple. “We’ve just got to put our balls on the line and go for it,” he told reporters.
He wasn’t wrong about that, it just turns out the Lightning were also willing to risk life, limb and every other necessary appendage to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. And for the fifth-straight year in a row Toronto is being sent home after another first round knockout, losing 2-1 in fight that went down to the last minute.
This game was bound to be a punch in gut for one of these two teams with history on the mind entering Game 7: Tampa looking to win the cup for the third-straight year (the first team since the New York Islanders during their stretch from 1979 – 1983), and Toronto, well, just trying to just reach the second round for the first time since 2004. But if we want to be clerical about it, the Leafs were also searching for their first cup win since the Canadian Centennial and Lester B. Pearson was prime minister.
While the sting of this year’s exit may not be as bad as previous years for Toronto, it will linger all the same given the two chances at sending Tampa home after leading the series 3-2 after Game 5, which makes for the second season in a row they’ve blown that kind of lead.
Tampa is moving on thanks to third liner Nick Paul, who scored both goals on the evening and seemed to be everywhere he was needed on the ice Saturday night. Paul picked up his first career playoff goals in the win, which makes since he wound up on the Bolts roster after a March trade from Ottawa. Prior to Saturday he racked up just five goals and 14 points since saying goodbye to the Senators.
But his timing was much needed in a tight game where Tampa’s stars were running on an empty tank and the Leafs scorers were threatening most of the game. With two minutes left in the first period, Paul and Ross Colton took an odd man rush into the Leafs’ end, with Colton firing on goalie Jack Campbell and Paul turning the rebound for a score.
Whatever high Tampa had coming off that score was quickly deflated when Brayden Point, who scored the winning goal in overtime against the Leafs in Game 6, was injured after colliding with the boards near the end of the first period. Point had to be helped off the ice and tried to return at the beginning of the second period, barely making it one shift before heading to the bench.
The Leafs dialed it up from there, with Captain John Tavares scoring from the slot and putting the score even at 1-1. But the goal was called off on an interference call on Leafs defenseman Justin Holl, who caught Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli in a pick. But they got one that counts with just under 7 minutes left in the period, when Matthews charged across the blue line, dragging Tampa defenders with him before dishing to Morgan Rielly for the score.
But before the game could settle into a reset, just three minutes later Paul came back with a skate-to-stick combo that I can only describe in the most technical terms as “un-fucking-believable.” See for yourself:
It was fitting that Paul emerged as the latest legend of the moment for a Tampa team that has relied on group contributions during their latest run. Tampa Bay managed to keep a chunk of its players around over its title-winning seasons, and even if the regular cast aren’t taking lead, there always seems to be someone ready to step up when the moment comes.
That includes goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who played like a fortress on skates last night, stopping 30 out of 31 shots on goal, and locking in the game for the Lightning. A crucial third period power play from the Leafs seemed like it could tip the balance of the game, instead Vasilevskiy fended off six shots and had a little bit of luck with one puck that chased directly behind him, passing through the crease in the blink of an eye.
The disappointment in Toronto will be palpable, and if it wasn’t for the skeletal-hand of fate on the shoulder of this franchise always whispering dread nightmares into their ear whenever the spring comes around, Leafs fans could look at the upside. They played like the better team most of the series, and in the deciding game they outshot the defending champions 31 to 25. Maybe this was just the shit luck of the draw. Maybe this season could have been a tipping point for Toronto based off records alone: they set a team record for points (115), Mitch Marner hit a career high 97 points on the season and Matthews netted a record-setting 60 goals. Maybe they could just get the gang back together for one last heist next season. That may not be entirely likely as they have $77.451 million already on the books, with more than a few guys facing the rough questions of life after 30 on an NHL roster and Campbell entering free agency looking for a well-deserved payday. But hey, Matthews and Marner likely aren’t going anywhere, which is nice.
Tampa moves on to play the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers, the second time they face off in the last two years. The Lightning bounced them last year, so it should be another exciting series of Florida-based hockey, which is a sentence that never stops being weird to this Minnesota-born writer, no matter how good these squads are.
PHOENIX (AP) — It was no surprise when Luka Doncic looked ready for Game 7, calmly draining his first three shots to give the Dallas Mavericks an early lead.
The stunner came over the next two hours: The top-seeded Phoenix Suns had no response.
Doncic scored 35 points, Spencer Dinwiddie added 30 and the Mavericks blitzed the Suns with a 123-90 knockout Sunday night, advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.
“A lot of people said it would be a blowout,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said with a grin. “They were right.”
Of course, it wasn’t Dallas that was supposed to win on Sunday. The home team won the first six games of the series, but the Mavs broke through, dominating in a hostile environment from start to finish. Conversely, it was an embarrassing no-show for the playoff-tested Suns — who advanced to the NBA Finals last season with a very similar roster.
“We played all season to be in this situation,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. “It didn’t work out for us.”
The fourth-seeded Mavericks travel to face Golden State in Game 1 on Wednesday.
“I can’t get this smile off my face,” Doncic said. “I’m just really happy. Honestly, I think we deserved this.”
Doncic earned the Mavs an early lead, making his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. That helped Dallas push to a 27-17 advantage in the first quarter and a whopping 57-27 cushion at the halftime break.
Doncic and Dinwiddie, who came off the bench, combined to pour in 48 of the Mavericks’ 57 points. Doncic’s 27 points in the first half matched the Suns’ team total.
Game 7 drama? Not in the desert.
“It’s still kind of shocking,” Dinwiddie said.
Simply put, the Suns looked overwhelmed by the pressure of a Game 7. They missed shots they usually make, made bad passes they usually don’t make and looked nothing like the team that won an NBA-best 64 games during the regular season.
“That group has a lot of character and integrity and I know how bad they wanted it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We just could not execute tonight. Couldn’t make a shot early, that messed with us a little bit and Dallas played their tails of from start to finish.”
By halftime, many Suns fans were booing at the unsightly display.
The series might have been close but the individual games usually were not. Three of the first six games were decided by at least 20 points and none of the games came down to the final possession.
Game 7 followed a similar pattern, except the team doing all the damage was the road team. The Mavs led this one by 46 points.
Doncic was fantastic, making shots from all over the floor and finishing 12 of 19 from the field, including 6 of 11 on 3s. He also got some help: Dinwiddie was stellar in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
They became the eighth pair of teammates to score 30 points in a Game 7, the first since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002.
Meanwhile, Phoenix’s All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker was never a factor. The 37-year-old Paul is a 12-time All-Star that has done just about everything possible in the game except win a championship.
After this setback, it’s fair to wonder if there will be many more opportunities. Booker finished with 11 points and shot 3 of 14. Paul had 10 points and four assists. The Suns shot just 37.9% from the field.
“You could see some of the pressure was on them early,” Kidd said. “They missed some shots they normally make.”
Dallas beat the odds with the win: After the Celtics defeated the Bucks earlier Sunday, the home team was 110-33 (77 per cent) in NBA Game 7s.
It’s the second straight year the Suns have lost a playoff series after having a 2-0 lead. They won the first two games against the Bucks in the NBA Finals last season before losing four straight games.
Mavericks: Doncic and Dinwiddie were the first teammates to have at least 20 points in a half in Game 7 since Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston did it for the Knicks in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Suns: Phoenix shot just 6 of 23 (26.1 per cent) from the field in the first quarter. … The Suns hosted another sellout crowd at Footprint Center. Celebrities in attendance included baseball great Alex Rodriguez and rapper Lil’ Wayne. … The Suns are the second team in NBA history to win at least 64 games in the regular season and not make the conference finals. The other was the Mavericks in 2007. … Phoenix has still never won a title since coming into the league in 1968. … Deandre Ayton played just 18 minutes and finished with five points and four rebounds. When asked about Ayton’s lack of playing time, Williams responded “It’s internal.” Ayton did not speak to the media postgame.
After three Game 7s on Saturday, the thrilling 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue Sunday with another pair of win-or-go-home matchups. Those final two games will finalize the second round, making them must-see TV for hockey fans.
To close the first round, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames will battle at the Scotiabank Saddledome at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and on fuboTV (try for free). The series has been a goalie showcase thus far, as Dallas’ Jake Oettinger is No. 2 in save percentage in these playoffs while Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom is second in goals against average. A Stars win would send them to the second round for the first time since their Stanley Cup final run in 2020, and Calgary is seeking its first playoff series win since 2015.
In an absolutely thrilling game, Artemi Panarin sent a shot to the right side of Tristan Jarry’s net to put the Rangers into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Panarin was assisted by Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad on the overtime game winner. Zibanejad was key for the Rangers’ success late in the game as his goal at the 14:15 mark in the third period was what sent it to overtime. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was 3-0 in Game 7s coming into this game. His team finished the night with a 45-30 shot on goal advantage. Sidney Crosby did play in the game, after missing Game 6, and recorded an assist in the loss.
Follow here for all the live updates of what should be an extremely fun NHL Sunday night.
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