Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said he wasn’t sure what would happen with Kyle Lowry when he woke up Thursday morning but that he and the rest of Toronto’s front office would be comfortable either way.
“Honestly, we didn’t know which way it was going to go,” Ujiri said after dealing Norman Powell for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood but ultimately not dealing Lowry before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET NBA trade deadline passed. “Because we’ve really talked about looking at this team in every direction that it could go.
“We came to a point where we were comfortable with any direction that it went.”
Ujiri said jokingly that Lowry’s news conference after Wednesday night’s win over the Denver Nuggets — one that felt like a 25-minute goodbye to Toronto and its fans — was a “circus” and that it “didn’t feel like, maybe, that was the right way to go … it seemed surreal, a little bit.”
But as Thursday wore on, Ujiri eventually decided that the right move was to hang on to the greatest player in Raptors franchise history, pushing the decision about what will happen with his future with the team into the offseason.
When asked what will happen then, Ujiri said it’s something he’ll talk about with Lowry at that point.
“We’ll talk about it then,” he said. “I think we’ll talk about them when the time comes at the end of the season. But I think we all know the respect and the sentiment about Kyle and this ball club, and what he’s done not only for the city, the team, the country, the league.
“Honestly, our team can go in many different directions. I keep saying it. We are comfortable with whatever direction we go. Maybe we lost a chance here, but we also think we gained a chance in some other things going forward. This team, especially with what we’ve gone through this year, could pivot in many different directions. This is where we find ourselves now.”
Lowry, in an Instagram post, called Thursday a “crazy day but the love I got from everyone has been amazing.” He added, “Thank you all for making it known I’m loved and for all the birthday wishes.”
As for the player Ujiri did trade, Powell, he said that the opportunity to get a talented player who is also several years younger in Trent — he will be a restricted free agent this summer — was too good to pass up.
“Gary Trent is, I think, a 23-year-old player with lots of upside — shooter, defender, fits our core team,” Ujiri said. “That’s what we’re excited about.”
Ujiri also was asked, on multiple occasions, whether he would address his own free agency, as his contract is set to expire this summer. As he has repeatedly in the past, Ujiri only said that would be addressed at a later date, while adding that the Raptors organization will be “fine” no matter what.
When asked later to quantify what that meant, Ujiri gave a lengthy answer praising the fans back in Toronto, where the Raptors — who are playing this season in Tampa, Florida — haven’t played for more than a year.
“That place is incredible,” Ujiri said of Toronto. “The ownership, city, country, everything it stands for. I wish it on anybody in this world that can experience it. It’s incredible. And anybody that can experience my position, God bless you. It’s a big, big blessing. There’s nothing else I can say about the Toronto Raptors. It’s amazing.”
It’s been a difficult season for the Raptors, who broke a nine-game losing streak with their win over the Nuggets and sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. But with a talented core signed for the long term in Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby and with Lowry still on the team, Ujiri said the Raptors won’t be tanking to try to maximize their draft pick.
“Yes, they fight,” Ujiri said. “They fight together, you see they like to play together and, yeah, there’s been ups and downs, you guys have seen it. There’s been challenges, but at the end of the day, when you come into our locker room with these guys, and I see Kyle and Fred and OG and Pascal and all of them really come together.
“What they want to build, the experience they’ve had together of winning, we’re lucky. We’re blessed that we’ve been a winning organization, and hopefully we can continue that in some way or another and have a good vision for this ball club to continue that. There may be stops along the way and adversity along the way, but I think the overall culture we need to keep going and these players are a huge part of it.”