NASHVILLE — The NFL has fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 for violating protocols leading to the league’s first COVID-19 outbreak during the season, a person familiar with the discipline told The Associated Press.
The Titans had 24 people, including 13 players, test positive for COVID-19 between Sept. 24 and Oct. 11. The outbreak led the NFL to postpone two Tennessee games and the rescheduling of a game against Pittsburgh from Oct. 4 to Sunday and the second against Buffalo from Oct. 11 to Oct. 13.
The NFL and its players association sent officials, including infectious disease experts, to Nashville where they reviewed video and interviewed players, coaches and other personnel.
But the NFL found the Titans failed to wear masks at all times and were “insufficiently clear” to players about not meeting or working out once the facility closed. That kept the loss of draft picks or a forfeit out of the possible punishments.
That led to the fine, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the NFL nor the Titans have commented on league discipline connected with the outbreak.
7 biggest takeaways from Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s press conference – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — Holding court with an assembled group of media over a Zoom call late Saturday morning, a day before his team begins training camp practices in full, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri touched on a number of topics.
Most pertinently, Ujiri updated the contractual status of his staff, including general manager Bobby Webster, whose contract is set to expire at the end of this season and would preferably be extended.
“My staff is pretty much done,” Ujiri said. “I think Bobby was the last one. I think we are sealing it. There’s no issues. I would consider that done soon enough.”
Ujiri’s deal with the Raptors is also set to expire at the end of this coming season, but in regard to getting a deal done himself, he was far less forthcoming.
“I don’t know what the timeframe will be,” he said. “I go into this thing with a very positive mind and attitude. And we hope it goes that way.”
Ujiri’s situation, as cut-and-dry as it might seem, is actually a little more complicated than you may think. Sportsnet’s Michael Grange took a deep dive into all the factors in play in his latest column — so if you’re looking for a better understanding of what the hold up might be, that’s probably the best place to start.
But while word of Ujiri and his front office staff’s contract statuses was probably the biggest headline of his near-40-minute discussion with media, that certainly wasn’t the only noteworthy topic he opened up about.
Here are some other highlights from Ujiri’s session:
Moving on from Ibaka and Gasol
Ibaka, in particular, was a surprising departure, as it seemed there was mutual interest on both sides to get a deal done and bring the big man back. But, as things played out, it seems the direction the Raptors were going didn’t align with Ibaka and they ended up splitting.
“I think, first of all, those two guys were incredible for us,” Ujiri said. “You know, I have even a personal closeness to Serge from way back. These things become difficult, and we had to look at a lot about the future on our team, so we were very restrictive with term and years, or limited with term and years, because I think we have to look at sometimes a bigger picture with the team.
“… Marc and Serge were incredible for our organization, and all of us have the same exact feelings about them. Our staff, our front office, our coaches. Hard to see but, you know, sometimes we have to move on from these things. That’s the way it works.”
In place of Ibaka and Gasol, the Raptors ended up signing Aron Baynes and Alex Len, players without the same kind of name recognition as the club’s previous centre duo, but big men who, Ujiri believes, will get the job done regardless.
“We followed them for a while, whether it’s draft or free agency. I know our scouting team and our personnel team have done a lot of work on these guys,” Ujiri said of Baynes and Len. “We know Aron Baynes brings toughness and now those shooting abilities … He’s one guy that you don’t like on the other team and you love on your team.”
And speaking specifically about Len, Ujiri sees a player with a lot of potential to become much better than he already is.
“I think he still has plenty of good basketball ahead of him with great size and good skills,” he said. “We look forward to it, we believe in our developmental program and getting players better so we look forward to it.”
Confidence in Siakam
Pascal Siakam had a rough time in the post-season, failing to live up to expectations thrust upon him as the team’s No. 1 option. And with his four-year, $130-million max extension now kicking in this season, the pressure to perform will likely be even greater than before.
Earlier this week, Siakam was very introspective about his experience during the playoffs and his bubble experience in Disney World, in general, saying that playing in an isolated environment sucked the joy out of playing basketball, something that directly impacted his play.
Now, however, Siakam said the fun of the game has returned and he’s spent time during the off-season getting right mentally again — something that Ujiri has the utmost confidence in as well.
“I’ll say it up front, Pascal didn’t enjoy the game in the bubble,” Ujiri said. “Pascal, I don’t think he was himself. He said it to you guys, and honestly just seeing Pascal the past couple days here, I know it’s going to be different.
“… I’m confident we’ll get our old Pascal back. We know there’s things, we all have friends, we all have family, we all know people, people have dealt with this whole pandemic and this whole tough times differently. The bubble was not Pascal’s favourite place or favourite experience but I think he’s learned from it and I think he’ll come out of this fine.”
Big leap for OG coming?
Heading into his fourth season in the league and as a Raptor, OG Anunoby looks poised to have a bigger role this coming season as both a leader and contributor — particularly on the offensive end.
There’s likely some pressure that will come with this expectation, and despite flashes, Anunoby has never really shown the kind of offensive consistency you’d like to see from a player with his physical tools. But Ujiri believes that was just because of circumstances out of the still-only-23-year-old’s control and this could be the season where it all finally comes together.
“To be honest, the year before, not many people know what OG went through,” Ujiri said. “I know he wouldn’t want me saying this, but OG and his dad are close to my heart. He went through a very real hard time with the death of his dad and then he comes back and has, I think, an ankle sprain or a bad ankle injury. Then he gets through that and then has a busted appendix that keeps him out totally. Three things that really take him out of a significant part of the year.
“I think when he started to make progress last year, it was some sort of a surprise to everybody, but if you go back to his rookie year and all the excitement OG was starting. There was plenty of excitement coming out of that, and [then] he had this year, [where] many things happened, but he comes back strong last year.
“I believe the progress is going to continue. He’ll continue to grow as a player.”
This sign of confidence from Ujiri is good news for Anunoby, who has until Dec. 21 to try to negotiate a contract extension of his own with the Raptors or else he’ll become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
But whether an extension gets done or not by the deadline, it sounds like Ujiri considers Anunoby to be a big part of the team’s future.
“We’ll have conversations with his agent and I think there are talks to be had and they know of the abilities that we want so we’ll keep having those conversations,” Ujiri said. “I think the most important thing is we’re excited about OG and the progress that he can make and the jump he can make as a player. We saw him coming into his own in the bubble and one of the reasons too that we’re excited about this is it’s going to give OG, Pascal, Fred [VanVleet], the room to grow as leaders and feature on our basketball team with the leadership of Kyle [Lowry].”
Nothing but respect for Lowry
And speaking of Lowry, Ujiri spoke glowingly of the Raptors’ undisputed leader.
By the time this season ends, Lowry will be a 35-year-old unrestricted free agent. It’s unclear what the future has in store for him, but he’ll always have a big fan in Ujiri, at least.
“That boy is grand, man. That boy is, I don’t want to push his retirement, but he’s, in my opinion, a Hall of Famer,” Ujiri said. “What Kyle has done in this organization, the growth I’ve seen, you guys know. You know what we’ve all gone through the last six years.
“I will say this of Kyle, he’s been incredibly respectful to the organization and we will have that same incredible respect for Kyle anytime, every day. There’s no doubt about that. We’re proud of him. We’re proud that he’s lifted us like this, he’s lifted himself like this, and we’ll continue to support as much as we can with our basketball team winning.
“Kyle is a winner. Kyle wants to win. And even the times when we’ve gone through hard times, there was never a question of trying or not trying. He’s always given it his best. He has our full support.”
Ujiri, Raptors waiting on NBA before deciding what to do with Davis
A point of contention within the Raptors is the presence of Terence Davis on the roster after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.
Davis’s contract for the season was guaranteed on Nov.29. He’s with the team in camp and will have a court appearance on Dec. 11.
Additionally, Davis is under active investigation by the NBA under its domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy, something Ujiri said he and the team
are waiting on before making any kind of decision with Davis.
The 23-year-old had a strong rookie season last year, making the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, and he appears to be Toronto’s best long-term prospect.
With that said, despite the optics, Ujiri said the team isn’t keeping Davis around just for performance reasons — but rather because the club has information that leaves it confident in keeping him around.
“We made a decision as an organization with all the information we had with us,” Ujiri said. “We really tried to see this thing from a certain point of view. I will say this: We don’t condone anything that resembles what was alleged to have happened. We would not do that in our organization. What we have is a certain amount of information where we have to wait until the NBA is done with the investigation. We feel comfortable.
“I’ll say this: We’ve done as much due diligence [as we can] in talking to Terence, in talking to our organization. We went as far as even talking to all the women in our organization and getting their point of view from this. This is very important for us because we don’t want to say one thing and go do another thing.”
Ujiri wants to keep the message of social justice going
One of the biggest aspects of the Disney bubble was the league’s emphasis on social justice messaging, an effort that involved players wearing messages on jerseys and the “Black Lives Matter” slogan prominently painted on the court.
The Raptors followed suit, first arriving in Orlando on buses with “Black Lives Matter” boldly emblazoned on the side.
Now, entering a new season, Ujiri doesn’t want this momentum to stop.
“We’ll continue it,” he said of social justice messaging. “We all have to speak with ourselves, speak for ourselves, we have to speak collectively. I believe the bubble was a really good and special circumstance for us to really stand up and that was, at that time, we had to really make that the focus at that time. Now, we have to continue this conversation as we get back to our normal lives, we have to continue this conversation.”
Many factors at play for Ujiri as Raptors contract decision draws near – Sportsnet.ca
The last time Masai Ujiri was a pending free agent, his next move was decided at a posh mountain retreat in Vail, Colo., a two-hour drive west from Denver where he was in the final year of his contract as general manager of the Nuggets.
He met there with Tim Leiweke, then the decidedly up-tempo chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. At the time, Leiweke was in the midst of a lightning-speed makeover of the company that owned the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and a range of other holdings, but no championship trophies.
Leiweke’s contacts in the NBA and across the sports industry in North America ran deep, and he’d determined in the spring of 2013 that Ujiri was the person he needed to right the ship that was the Raptors, seemingly drifting aimlessly into mediocrity in what turned out to be the final days of former Raptors president Bryan Colangelo’s run with the club.
Ujiri — who had worked as a scout and assistant GM for Colangelo in Toronto before taking the GM position with the Nuggets — had led Denver to three consecutive playoff appearances and a franchise record 57 wins in 2012—13. He was a star on the rise.
“We talked to other people,” said Leiweke, who revamped the front offices of all three of MLSE’s clubs in his brief-but-impactful 30-month stint in Toronto. “But we had done our homework, and [MLSE chairman] Larry [Tanenbaum] knew him from before so that helped, but we were laser-focused on Masai.”
Nearly eight years later, that day in Vail remains the pivotal moment in Raptors history. The Ujiri-led team made the playoffs in 2013–14, starting a streak that should run to eight seasons in 2020–21, barring anything unforeseen. The list of franchise records and firsts under his leadership is endless, but features most prominently Toronto’s NBA championship in 2019.
But Ujiri is a pending free agent again. His eighth season with the team is also the final year of his current contract, and all signals are that he is in no rush to sign an extension.
The people he works for? They would have signed him yesterday if they could.
“I can promise you, it’s not [MLSE],” said a source with knowledge of the ownership’s thinking. “They’d have to be nuts not to [want to sign him]. It’s not like there’s a Plan A and a Plan B. There’s only Plan A, and it’s him.
“But he’s a very deliberate guy, and the kind of guy you have to respect his space.”
Ujiri has kept his intentions close to the vest, speaking publicly only in broad terms.
On Saturday, in his address prior to the opening of training camp, Ujiri said he’s extended the contracts for all of his leadership team with the exception of general manager Bobby Webster whose deal is all but completed.
“I think we are sealing it,” he said. “I would consider that done soon enough.”
But on his own deal he was far less definitive, citing that the logistics of seeing the team through the relocation from Toronto to Tampa Bay as a short-term obstacle, just as seeing the team through the pandemic and the restart was an obstacle before that.
The two sides haven’t talked in depth about his contract since February, according to sources.
“I think there’s just been so much that I know I’ve pushed it out ’til I think we get through a lot of this,” he said Saturday. “There’s just so much going on with this relocation and the focus, and I don’t want to be distracted that way.”
But would he anticipate a new deal being reached in the next few months?
“I don’t know what the timeframe will be,” he later added. “I go into this thing with a very positive mind and attitude. And we hope it goes that way.”
So as the clock starts ticking on the final year of his current deal and Ujiri’s future, the central question hanging over the team he’s built in his image is how, one way or the other, history will repeat itself.
Either Ujiri will work to the end of his contract and move on to his next opportunity as he did leaving Denver for Toronto, or he will sign with the Raptors again — he has already signed one extension back in 2016 — and continue a run that has cemented his place in the city’s sports lore.
He will be paid handsomely no matter what direction he chooses.
In conversations with other NBA executives and other league insiders, the consensus is his track record — his teams have made 10 consecutive playoff appearances and averaged more than 50 wins — and league-wide profile, combined with the leverage he has, will almost certainly make him the highest-paid executive in the league for now and into the foreseeable future. The bidding will start at $12 million a year.
“Masai has gotten to the point where he’s maxed the market as it relates to someone in his position,” said one well-positioned league insider. “As far as a front-office person is concerned, he’s going to make the most money that a front-office person has ever made, and he’s probably going to be able to hold that, where no one is going to be able to usurp that number.”
The bigger question is what will it take for MLSE to convince Ujiri to stay in Toronto — or at least, why has he been hesitant to sign a deal so far — and for what reason would he want to leave?
In that case, how he got here in the first place might be instructive. Leiweke quickly understood what appealed to Ujiri was more than money or security — it was the ability to match his ambition.
“We just talked about life first. I got to know him and got to know his vision on what he would do differently if he were in Toronto. We spent a lot of time talking about Giants of Africa and Basketball Without Borders and how we could help. We talked a lot about the relationship between us and talked an awful lot about what it would take to win.
“And he came back and said: ‘Here are the things that are important to me.’”
Ujiri had a list. Looking back on it captures the size of the mountain he has been able to move in making the Raptors one of the most successful and respected organizations in the NBA over his tenure.
According to Leiweke, the list included: Helping him broaden his charity work; constructing a dedicated practice facility; starting a locally based G-League franchise; hosting the NBA All-Star Game; and Ujiri having unfettered control of basketball decisions. It all led to the No. 1 item: winning a championship.
“And I sat there in that meeting and said, ‘Here is how we’re going to do this.’ Done. ‘Here’s how we’re going to do that.’ Done, done and done. And went down the list and I showed him how I would get everyone on the same page,” said Leiweke.
“I knew one of the strengths we’d have as an organization is our ability to immediately show him a plan of action for how we were going to execute his vision. It was very refreshing for him.”
The deal was reached in principle before Ujiri headed back down the mountain to Denver.
Maybe that’s the best way to look at what might keep Ujiri in Toronto: What mountains does he want to move next, and who is going to help him do the heavy lifting?
What’s on his list now?
Regardless of the details, if the MLSE board thinks Ujiri might be prone to easing up on the gas after a long stretch of unprecedented success, it would be a serious miscalculation, in Leiweke’s mind.
“I’m not going to get involved in any speculation with what’s going on with them. That’s a loss leader opportunity for me for someone to get pissed at me,” Leiweke said. “But I’ll say this about Masai: He challenges himself every day. He loves a challenge. The risk [for MLSE] is that there are great challenges out there in this league.
“[And] Masai loves that challenge. Tell him ‘no’ and that’s where Masai will go. Tell him he can’t do it and that’s where Masai will land,” Leiweke said. “The more impossible the challenge, the bigger the dream, the more Masai will want to do it, and that’s the challenge for Toronto.
“What they’ve accomplished now, that’s not good enough for Masai. He has to have the next five things. He’s going to want to have a higher place to go to, a greater challenge, and that’s just the way the guy is wired, and that’s why he’s so successful.”
What assurances might Ujiri be seeking in a new deal?
There have been changes at MLSE — owned by BCE and Rogers, each with a 37.5 per cent share, while Larry Tannenbaum owns the remaining 25 per cent — that might give Ujiri pause before committing to another long-term deal.
Former Bell Canada chief executive officer George Cope retired from the board last summer. Cope and Tanenbaum’s unwavering support meant that Ujiri could proceed confidently, knowing his vision for the Raptors would hold sway. While there’s no indication that will change with a new board configuration — Rogers deputy chairman Melinda Rogers-Hixon and Bell CEO Mirko Bibic are the new faces — that theory has yet to be tested.
If the board shares Ujiri’s passion to take the Raptors to even greater heights, then all good. But any whiff of complacency in a league where the Golden State Warriors have committed to a $175-million payroll and another $82-million in luxury tax after a 15-win season could potentially push Ujiri to keep looking for his next opportunity.
Other reasons? It’s hard to imagine any of them being deal breakers but there have been some minor issues. Some close to the situation say that a report that the Washington Wizards were preparing a significant offer to hire him away from Toronto broke the night the Raptors won the championship in Oakland, “rubbed some people the wrong way.” Similarly, MLSE’s lack of haste in reaching out to Ujiri immediately after the title win provided Ujiri justification to slow play his hand keeping the pressure on while keeping all of his options open. There have been no meaningful negotiations since.
Ujiri said this past summer that he wanted to wait until his top lieutenants were rewarded before he sat down to talk, but with those deals done only his deal remains and now the clock ticks louder.
His bosses would love to have Ujiri back, and the door will remain open whenever he chooses to walk in and sit down. Until then, Ujiri is probably best served taking his time. The only problem?
Opportunities where Ujiri could make 10 figures while enjoying almost unlimited say over the basketball operation — “No one questions a single thing he does,” says one source. “He tells them out of respect, but that’s all.” — and having the freedom to pursue his other passions are few and far between.
“The list of teams that could afford him is very, very short,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “The Knicks, Brooklyn, Chicago, maybe Miami … the L.A. teams, Golden State — none of those jobs are available right now.”
As one source said to me: “In Toronto, he’s treated better than he would be treated in any other market where the expectations would be a lot higher in terms of his whereabouts and his presence. If he went to New York, would he have the autonomy to go to Africa for three weeks and no one knows where he is and that would be okay? No. Maybe he would be afforded that on a honeymoon basis? But not after that.”
Said another: “There may be places where Masai has as much flexibility as he does in Toronto, but he can’t have more. He does whatever he wants.”
So what could be Ujiri’s next move?
One possibility could be ownership. A theory that some league insiders have put forward is that Ujiri is waiting for the right opportunity to join a new ownership group — maybe even in a secondary market — where his cache and track record could be recognized with equity in a new venture. Even a five–per-cent piece of a franchise worth $2.5 billion would be significant.
And while MLSE would likely be willing to exceed any offer Ujiri might get around the NBA, a business with two publicly traded primary shareholders might have a greater challenge carving out an ownership stake, although there are other ways to mimic equity in high-end executive compensation packages.
Another route to ownership could come through expansion. The NBA hasn’t added a franchise since 2004, with owners reluctant to divide their lucrative revenue pie any further than the existing 30 teams. Given the hit the league has taken in the pandemic, that reticence might change simply due to the expansion fees.
“Trust me, the league will expand,” said a league insider.
Is it worth noting that Leiweke is the chief executive officer of the ownership group that is bringing the NHL to Seattle in a newly renovated arena, the former home of the Supersonics?
“The NBA has a hole to fill, and if you do two expansion teams, that’s $4.5 billion. Divided 30 ways, everyone gets $140 million,” said Leiweke. “Ironically, that is a very, very similar number to the losses in 2020–21.”
But in any scenario, expansion is years away, and Ujiri’s contract has only one more year to run. If Ujiri were to head up a group seeking an expansion team, he’d have to find something else to do in the meantime.
Other options? His interests in politics and social change run deeply, but roles in those areas don’t typically come with 10-figure paycheques.
The NBA’s growing interest in Africa would also seem like a fit for Ujiri, but — again — there isn’t a job available that would match the profile and money he can command in the league now.
His friendship with Barack Obama could bear fruit as the 44th U.S. President could be looking for proven leaders to help him with his entrepreneurial plans, but anything like that would likely be a sharp turn from Ujiri’s expertise in basketball.
Add it up and maybe Ujiri will continue doing exactly what he’s doing right now: wait things out while surveying the landscape for the next opportunity. He can be confident that one of the best jobs in sports will remain available to him for as long as he wants it, whenever he chooses to commit.
“He knows that [MLSE] desperately want to sign him. I believe [they] are going to sign him, but you never know for sure,” said the source close to the MLSE board. “[But] there’s no hold up on their part.”
Said one league insider: “I don’t know what the next step is, and I will tell you — I don’t think Masai does either, otherwise he’d be positioning himself for it.”
So perhaps a compromise will win the day? Rather than a long-term commitment, Ujiri could make like LeBron and take a shorter deal that helps him stay flexible should things change.
But when the two sides do sit down to negotiate, the finer points won’t be money, those in the know expect.
Instead, it will be details that allow him maximum flexibility now and in the future — the ability to interview for other jobs without having to gain permission, or softer parameters around non-compete clauses if he does leave.
In the meantime, it’s up to the leadership at MLSE to identify ways that they can make sure the best leader the organization has ever had remains challenged and engaged and convinced the ownership is prepared to match his drive and ambition.
“The thing that’s unique about him is he’s always going to push himself and he’s always going to have the next step, next phase, next series of accomplishments, and he’s not going to rest on his laurels, and it’s never just about the paycheque,” said Leiweke. “He’s going to want to continue to be very dominant as an organization, and he’s going to want to be one of those franchises where players want to come play for that franchise, that marketplace and for Canada.
“The most important thing for him is: Is he going to have a partner that’s going to push as hard as he’s going to want to push and get things done?”
Eight years after seeing his future in Toronto from the mountains of Colorado, Masai Ujiri is still looking for his next horizon.
Kings Looking For Draft Compensation In Potential Buddy Hield Trade – RealGM.com
The Sacramento Kings are looking to receive draft compensation in any trade involving Buddy Hield, sources told Ian Begley of SNY.
No trade involving Hield was imminent as of earlier this week.
The Kings recently said they felt they were on the same page as Hield after Bogdan Bogdanovic signed with the Hawks.
Begley adds that it is unknown whether the Knicks would be interested in a trade for Hield, or would be willing to give up draft picks in a deal.
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