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Stress over Masai Ujiri’s future with Raptors just beginning –



For the moment, there is time to exhale, breathe deeply, and exhale again.

The Toronto Raptors were never likely to make a significant move before the NBA trade deadline passed Thursday afternoon.

But now the focus can be entirely on the group at hand, the one that has a chance to win a franchise-record 60 games, the one that has the third-best record in the league.

From Toronto’s point of view the biggest deal of all is the one that’s not going down, at least for now.

The New York Knicks no longer have a job opening with Masai Ujiri’s name on it.

All indications are that the Knicks have opted to replace former president Steve Mills with prominent player agent Leon Rose.

The move should temporarily quell the fevered speculation around the possibility of Ujiri bolting – either to the Knicks, where there no longer appears to be an obvious job available, or anywhere else at the moment.

That Knicks owner James Dolan was so easily distracted from his widely-reported determination to lure Ujiri to dig New York out of 20 years of dysfunction is telling.

Basically Dolan is going to Dolan.

“You can give him all the advice, all the guidance, all the background and he’s still going to do what he wants to do. He moves to the beat of his own drum,” a source familiar with the Knicks’ search told me Tuesday when the rumours bubbled up again.

Even if the wheels were being greased to ease Ujiri to the Knicks at some point – and multiple league sources have confirmed to me that the Raptors executive has seen the Knicks as a viable destination, depending on timing – there was always the possibility that Dolan would veer into another direction, and he did.

It probably didn’t help that Larry Tanenbaum — Raptors minority owner and chairman of the NBA board of governors – was not about to make it easy for the Knicks to poach the architect of the Raptors’ success.

Whether that involved Tanenbaum appealing directly to Dolan or to NBA commissioner Adam Silver or both, the sense is Raptors ownership was emphatic: there would be no cooperation from them to make Ujiri’s exit at any time in advance of the natural end of his contract in the summer of 2021 any easier.

Faced with the possibility of massive demands for compensation, obstacles to granting permission to talk, and the message that the tampering radar would be on full, Dolan has apparently chosen the bird in the hand rather than waiting to see when Ujiri could be flushed out.

Back in Toronto there remains some toothpaste to push back in the tube, however.

The immediate question is if and when Ujiri will sign a new deal with the Raptors – the only measure that would put to rest speculation on his long-term future with the team he is poised to lead to the playoffs for the seventh straight season, this time while defending an NBA title.

My understanding of the situation is that though there have been some preliminary discussions between Ujiri and the ownership group at MLSE, nothing has changed in the past month regarding the Raptors president’s desire to not address his contract status until the summer of 2020 at the earliest and maybe all the way to 2021. That doesn’t mean MLSE won’t get a chance to pitch him on a new deal, but there’s no guarantee Ujiri won’t push his decision as far out as possible.

Why was ownership slow off the mark in initiating contract talks with Ujiri?

That he had two years left on his deal, a championship bonus to spend and the principals were all embarking on a compressed, post-championship summer schedule is the best explanation I’ve come up with.

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Ujiri certainly has no incentive to push things along in the meantime. The longer he waits the more his leverage will build. Not only will he be entering the final year of his deal in 2020-21, all his top basketball staff are in the same boat.

Not that he should need it, but it’s impossible to navigate NBA waters as successfully as Ujiri has over his career without understanding the benefits of negotiating from a position of strength.

But considering how strong a relationship Ujiri has with Tanenbaum (“he’s like a son,” the Raptors chairman said in the championship dressing room back in June when reports of the Washington Wizards’ play for Ujiri surfaced), it’s interesting to speculate about what might be holding Ujiri back even now with the opportunity in New York apparently past.

One clue could be the future status of the eight-member MLSE board and what kind of company Ujiri would be signing up to spend the prime years of his career with.

Since being recruited from the Denver Nuggets – where it should be pointed out, Ujiri passed on opportunities to sign an extension and worked through to end of his contract before leaving for Toronto – in 2013, Ujiri has enjoyed a charmed corporate existence.

The Raptors are owned by MLSE, which in turn is owned by Tanenbaum (25 per cent) and Rogers Communications and BCE (37.5 per cent each), and which owns the Maple Leafs, Toronto FC and Scotiabank Arena among other properties.

As it relates to the basketball operation, Ujiri’s reporting structure has been fairly streamlined.

Tanenbaum could always be counted on to be in his corner. Tanenbaum was in the bidding to bring the NBA to Toronto in the early 1990s. The 2019 title was a dream come true. He has always been all in.

Over the years, Bell chief executive officer George Cope became a staunch ally too. Cope played basketball at the university level and is a passionate and knowledgeable NBA fan. The potential for basketball’s growth in Toronto and Canada didn’t have to be explained to him. Moreover, as one of the driving forces behind the Bell Let’s Talk Day initiative to raise funds and awareness around mental health, he could appreciate Ujiri’s passion for his Giants of Africa Foundation.

With Tanenbaum and Cope in his corner, Ujiri could feel confident that his vision for the basketball operation could unfold relatively seamlessly. The Raptors’ new practice facility, the addition of the G-League franchise, a commitment to reward staff and to go into the luxury tax when needed are all evidence.

But Cope retired as Bell CEO last month and his term on the MLSE board is up this summer.

Will the incoming Mirko Bibic replicate his predecessor’s basketball passion?

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Given that the Rogers side of the ownership group haven’t been as directly tied in with the day-to-day operations of the team, it makes sense that Ujiri might be looking for reassurances that the new-look board of directors will share his vision and passion, neither of which come cheap.

For the first time since Ujiri came to work in Toronto there is some uncertainty.

In that same vein, the status of Tanenbaum could be worth watching.

Tanenbaum is 75 and in robust health, but it’s fair to wonder if his influence within MLSE is forever. Is there a timeline during which a change of control could be required? What would MLSE look like then?

More broadly: after a period of aggressive expansion and a fairy tale championship, you can assume Ujiri would want to feel confident about MLSE’s future ambitions and their willingness to compete in a world where payrolls crack $200-million and beyond.

Do they want to stand out? Not just in the NBA, but beyond?

Suggesting that Ujiri would be satisfied working for a nice Canadian NBA franchise that won a title once and is content to string together a few winning seasons here or there is to suggest you don’t understand the man.

And on that subject, how much do they really value the charitable work he does? Enough to make a donation and provide some back-office logistical support as they do now?

Or enough to help him make it as big as Ujiri wants it to be? To have a presence throughout Africa, rather than a handful of countries? To help grow the sport and move the needle across the continent?

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The trade deadline is over and the Raptors can now get on with the business of winning games and positioning themselves for what is looking like a spirited title defence.

For the moment, concerns about Ujiri’s immediate status have passed.

But in the meantime, MLSE will need to figure out what kind of organization they are and what kind of basketball franchise they want to have when the time comes to talk about the future with their most forward-looking employee.

Catch your breath, things are just getting started.

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Hockey Canada's strategy of deflecting serves no one but its disgraced leadership – The Globe and Mail



Witnesses Scott Smith, Hockey Canada President and Chief Operating Officer, left, and Hockey Canada Chief Financial Officer Brian Cairo, appear at the standing committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 27, 2022.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A while back, I had a job in a movie theatre. The theatre at the foot of an atrium in an open-plan tower. We plebs could look up at the offices and hallways above, where the corporation’s big wigs worked.

The biggest wig in our world would often lean over a balcony and stare down at us, like a gargoyle in pinstripes. If you were caught loafing, a call would be made and you’d hear about it.

One day, there was a commotion from several floors above – a lot of screaming and banging. The biggest wig had been fired. His reaction was to go back to his office and barricade himself inside it.

The banging was security kicking in the door. The screaming was him being dragged to the elevators. It was a different time.

But the lesson therein is timeless. Nobody likes being canned. But people in charge take it particularly hard.

Right now, 2½ months into Hockey Canada’s sex-abuse scandal, we’re at the barricade stage.

In any other country, this would be over now. Through a combination of popular outrage and political panic, the Hockey Canada edifice would have been burned to the ground.

But in this country we continue to believe shame will do the job for us. That the people in charge of this world-class gong show will get the message and slink off home.

But Hockey Canada’s leadership is not operating on Canadian rules. They’re pulling from the American handbook on how to survive a scandal. Shamelessness is a prerequisite.

Their first job was deflecting.

In terms of an absolute defence, the deflecting’s gone about as well as a guy trying to push off bullets by waving his hands around. But it bought time. The men in charge knew they could count on Ottawa to a) quickly promise to take decisive action and b) take absolutely forever to decide what that decisive action looks like.

Deflecting has another virtue – it dilutes outrage. No matter how awful, people can only read about a story for so long without becoming bored. And there’s always a fresh outrage to divert us.

This week, Hockey Canada hired someone to head an investigation into the workings of Hockey Canada. You could’ve written out this person’s CV long before the name was made public – retired judge, history of public service, member of the new Family Compact, etc.

Finding people is not hard. There are a whole bunch of them out there twiddling their thumbs, itching for someone to stick a microphone in front of them.

But after two months of withering pressure, Hockey Canada is just now figuring out who will set up the Slack group to discuss how to begin discussing their problems. Let me guess that if they’d been bleeding cash instead, organizing some sort of working committee would have taken two hours.

But this is how you do it, American-style. Pretend it’s a live broadcast with screen time to fill before commercials – stretch. Continue talking about nothing. Don’t stop speaking. It’s the silence that kills.

While you’re stretching, keep your eye on the horizon. That’s where the sports are. If you can make it to sports, you might be okay. The same people who wanted your head paraded in the town square yesterday might be distracted by a waving flag.

On Tuesday, the world junior hockey championship begins in Edmonton. Over the weekend, there will be a barrage of publicity about the tournament that launched a thousand official denials. We’ll rehash the particulars of this ugly affair and assess where we’re at. This column is part of that.

By Tuesday, the usual outlets will be talking about hockey. How’s Canada’s top line measuring up? Where’s the United States at? Whither the Olympic team?

This is how you erect a modern, media barricade.

Having seen a million of these things go down in recent years, you know you’re not going to talk your way out of your problem.

Bottom-line: You were in positions of authority at a public institution when something abhorrent happened. The integrity of that institution cannot be maintained if you continue to lead it.

This is obvious. But in our rush to definitively nail someone, anyone, we have skidded past the obvious. Now we’re all deep in the weeds, hacking away.

Uncovering the minutiae about who said what to whom at what board meeting may absorb reporters and politicians, but it only serves Hockey Canada’s current leadership.

While we’re Inspector Clouseau-ing this thing, we’re also avoiding the clear end point. The longer we spend doing that, the more likely it is that these fish all get off the hook.

This was the goal all along. Deflect, get to the world juniors, hope that Team Canada wins and that everyone is too exhausted by the end of it to keep taking pops at you. By the time your judge wraps up his report – let me guess ‘Mistakes were made but there is a clear plan forward’ – maybe you’ll have successfully run your gauntlet.

It’s not a plan, as such. As with Hockey Canada’s in-camera board meetings, nobody’s written it down. It’s instinctive process based on observation. In scandals as in sports, the mission is getting through today.

It’s not going to work. That’s also obvious. No matter what the eventual report says, it will reignite outrage.

The names of the players involved in the two alleged assaults will come out, probably during the NHL season. That will reignite outrage.

At any moment, the alleged victims could make fulsome public declarations. That will reignite outrage.

Any way you go, the outrage is going to leak out again. The only way to contain it is to blow this down to the foundations. Eventually, everyone’s going to realize that.

Really, all that’s being decided now is how you want to get to the elevators – walking under your own power, or being dragged there screaming by the rest of Canada.

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Rafael Nadal announces he will not be playing at the Canadian Open



Montreal, Canada- 22 Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, has announced that he will not be playing at the Canadian Open which kicks off this weekend.

Nadal cited that the reason to abandon the Canadian Open was a result of an abundance of caution regarding injury concerns.

“From the vacation days and my subsequent return to training, everything has gone well these weeks. Four days ago, I also started training my serve and yesterday, after training, I had a little discomfort that was still there today.

We have decided not to travel to Montreal and continue with the training sessions without forcing ourselves. I sincerely thank the tournament director, Eugene, and his entire team for the understanding and support they have always shown me, and today was no exception.

I hope to play again in Montreal, a tournament that I love and that I have won five times in front of an audience that has always welcomed me with great affection. I have no choice but to be prudent at this point and think about health,” said the Spaniard.

Last month, Nadal was forced to withdraw from his Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has also withdrawn from the Canadian Open as his status as unvaccinated against COVID-19 means he cannot enter the country.

Djokovic is also unlikely to play at the US Open after organizers said they would respect the American government rules over travel for unvaccinated players as the United States (US) requires non-citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.

“Per the Grand Slam Rule Book, all eligible players are automatically entered into the men’s and women’s singles main draw fields based on ranking 42 days prior to the first Monday of the event.

The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the US government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-US citizens,” read a statement from the US Open which is set to take place in New York from the 29th of August to the 11th of September, 2022.

Nevertheless, Novak Djokovic will be joining Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to play for Team Europe in the Laver Cup.

The event, which pits six European players against six from Team World over three days, will take place in London between 23 and 25 September 2022.

“It’s the only (event) where you play in a team with guys you are normally competing against. To be joining Rafa, Roger and Andy, three of my biggest all-time rivals, it’s going to be a truly unique moment in the history of our sport,” said Djokovic.

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Canada beats Sweden to claim gold in Hlinka Gretzky Cup –



RED DEER, Alta. — Canada scored early and often and also stayed out of the penalty box en route to a 4-1 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal final of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Tanner Howe, Ethan Gauthier, Calum Ritchie and Brayden Yager scored for the Canadians, who held period leads of 2-1 and 3-1 at the Peavey Mart Centrium on Saturday. Riley Heidt also chipped in with two assists for the champions.

Hugo Pettersson scored for Sweden, who were outshot 36-26. Each team received eight minutes in penalties.

Canada had beaten Sweden 3-0 on Aug. 3.

“Three weeks ago, we put this roster together and I felt right away this was a tight group,” said head coach Stephane Julien. “It’s not easy when you have this much talent, but everyone accepted their role and I’m so happy for them.”

The win is Canada’s first gold medal since 2018, the last time this tournament was held in Canada.

“I’m so happy for this group,” added Julien. “They haven’t had it easy in their careers the last two years with the pandemic, but now they have this, a gold medal and something they are going to remember for the rest of their career.”

Canada advanced to the final with a 4-1 win over Finland, while Sweden defeated Czechia 6-2. Finland beat Czechia 3-1 in Saturday’s bronze-medal final.

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup will shift to Europe in 2023, returning to Breclav and Piestany, Czechia for the first time since 2021. 

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