NBA

Lewenberg: Ujiri resists temptation to make big move

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Josh Lewenberg
2/20/2014 10:23:35 PM
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TORONTO - It's been just over two months since Masai Ujiri aggressively opened trade season in the NBA, pulling off a blockbuster seven-player deal with Sacramento, but the Raptors' general manager opted to employ a different tactic Thursday afternoon, as the deadline came and went without much noise.

"It's weird with the trade deadline," Ujiri said, shortly after 4pm et, one hour removed from the deadline itself. "We all get caught up in it, we're working the phones and doing all kinds of stuff."

"Nothing really significant got done but it's always a tedious time because you're always trying to see what makes sense for your team, now and in the future."

It wasn't for a lack of effort - Ujiri and company had contemplated a number of larger scale trade scenarios - but ultimately the Raptors' core was left untouched, their roster kept intact, apart from a last minute tinker to the back end of the bench.

"For us in our positions, it's always tough to stand pat," the Raptors' GM admitted. "There are things that are tempting and you do the exercise in your mind, on paper, you try to picture it [but] you don't know until it's actually put in there and they begin to play."

For Ujiri, the evaluation process has been muddled by his team's unexpected success since the Rudy Gay trade in December and the porous Eastern Conference in which they've experienced said success. The result of that appraisal was somewhat inconclusive. Ujiri is still unsure what he has in the East's surprising third seed but their recent play - and most importantly the chemistry they've developed - has piqued his interest enough to buy them more time.

"You pray and you hope for chemistry and I think we found it a little bit," he stressed. "We said we were going to give these players a platform and they would dictate where we go and to be fair, I think we've also tried to live up to our part of the bargain here and they have, too."

Simply put, the right deal wasn't out there, not one that would satisfy Ujiri's long-term goals while also maintaining what they have in place now. Ujiri is confident most of the discussion that has taken place over the last week can be revisited over the summer, if need be. At that point, he should have a greater idea of what's available but also how much his own assets are worth. One of those players, soon-to-be free agent point guard Kyle Lowry, has been the focus of trade speculation and will headline Ujiri's offseason decision-making process.

"Obviously, we didn't do anything with Kyle because we view him highly in this organization," Ujiri said of Lowry, who is averaging career-bests in points and assists this year. In Wednesday night's loss to the Bulls, Lowry knocked down his 129th three-pointer of the campaign, matching his career-high for threes made in a single season, with 28 games still left to play.

Ujiri met with Lowry's agent, Andy Miller, on Wednesday, the eve of the deadline. Overall, the Raptors' GM has been content with the communication on both sides and seemed enthusiastic about Lowry's progress and his future with the team.

"We set some good [goals] and had good talks with him," said Ujiri. "He was upfront with us, we were upfront with him in the beginning of the season and he's living up to his part and I think we've lived up our part, too. I think that's how you build partnerships. We'll see how he grows."

It was a relatively quiet day league-wide. The most notable deal was leaked by Yahoo Sports shortly after the 3pm et deadline had passed with Indiana, the East's best team, shipping often-injured former all-star Danny Granger to the rebuilding 76ers for a package that included breakout forward Evan Turner.

The Raptors also made a late, albeit inconsequential move, trading seldom-used forward Austin Daye to San Antonio in exchange for French combo guard Nando De Colo.

De Colo - averaging 4.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 26 games for the Spurs this season, his second in the NBA - is due to become a free agent this summer and doesn't figure to factor into Casey's rotation as long as his regulars stay healthy.

Daye has appeared in just eight games for Toronto after signing with Raptors for the league minimum in the offseason. Often at the end of the bench, or one of Casey's inactives, Daye hasn't logged more than three minutes in a game since early December, coincidentally against the Spurs.

"You never know when an opportunity will come," Daye said in conversation with TSN.ca last month. "I know I can play in this league. It's just a matter of a numbers game right now."

"It's tough when you feel like there's no hope," he continued, "but you have to also look at it this way, you may not be playing, then you're thrown in a trade and then you're needed to play."

With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror and the uncertainty of Lowry's immediate future put behind them for the time being, the Raptors can focus all their attention on the stretch run.

"[The deadline] does weigh on you, it weighs on everybody," Ujiri admitted. "There's anxiety, people are wondering what's going to happen. It's gone, it's gone and now everybody plays a little more free and they kind of figure at least we're here for another few months or for the future. As tough as we all try to be, me included, the trade deadline is a date, I think, that's significant for everybody."

Masai Ujiri (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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