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Lewenberg: Ujiri keeping an open mind heading into deadline

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Josh Lewenberg, TSN.ca
2/16/2014 11:29:44 PM
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NEW ORLEANS - As All-Star festivities wrap up in New Orleans and the focus immediately shifts to Thursday's NBA trade deadline, Masai Ujiri is prepared for a busy week of fielding phone calls.

“I'll be right here," he said pointing to his cell phone, "waiting and we'll see what happens."

"I never know what to expect," Ujiri continued, speaking to TSN.ca ahead of Sunday's All-Star game. "Sometimes it's quiet until the last minute, sometimes it's busy. As far as our team, I think the team has played well. They have done well with the platform so [we'll] keep trying to grow."

If the Raptors' general manager is feeling any pressure to make a move ahead of the deadline, he's not showing it.

Ujiri remains patient, committed to sustainable long-term growth and weary of disrupting the team's newfound chemistry, but he wouldn't rule out pulling the trigger on the right deal, if it's out there.

Despite his team's recent success, the plan hasn't changed and neither has his composure.

"I always said since I came [to Toronto], the players will dictate where we go and the team will dictate where we go," he stated. "That's kind of how it's been. So they're growing and you want it that way."

Following a disappointing 6-12 start to the season, the Raptors have gone 21-12 since trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento on Dec. 9. What's stood out to Ujiri, coach Dwane Casey, the players and anyone that has watched this team over the last two months is their on-court chemistry.

Gay's absence has allowed for a more cohesive offence, predicated on ball movement, which has allowed Kyle Lowry and Toronto's young players to flourish. All four incoming players have contributed and the defence has improved. Still, not even the Raptors' architect could have predicted such a quick turnaround.

"We try to study [but] we're not geniuses," Ujiri admitted. "You have to get lucky sometimes and I think we were lucky. It kind of came together in terms of chemistry."

With 30 regular season games to go, the Raptors find themselves at the top of the Atlantic Division, third in the Eastern Conference. They're one game ahead of fourth-place Chicago and only 3.5 games separate them from Brooklyn, sitting in the seventh seed.

Ujiri won't compromise the organization's future for instant gratification but he knows where they sit in the East and would consider adding another impact player as long as it doesn't derail their long-term flexibility.

"I don't want to call out the conference," he said, "I can't do that but it's the measuring stick and I think we have to keep that in mind.”

Lowry - a subject of trade rumours all season, the final year of his contract - has been a big part of the Raptors' success and figures to be just as valuable to a their playoff cause.

The question, as it has been for months is: Will he be around for the stretch run?

“I hate to comment about any player in that way, but I think we are not good enough so you have to keep it open," he responded. "That's the honest answer. These guys have done pretty good. I know we've won a couple of games but we haven't done anything yet."

Translation; there are no untradeable players on the roster, Lowry included. If the right offer comes along Lowry could be moved but the asking price is significant, as it should be.

It should go without saying, but Ujiri won't be pressured into selling off Lowry or any of his assets simply to make a mid-season splash. Although previous regimes have fallen into that trap, the Raptors' first-year GM will survey the field and go from there.

His phone is on. His eyes and ears are open.

Masai Ujiri (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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