Tim Leiweke doesn’t mess around.
The man responsible for bringing David Beckham to the LA Galaxy and for helping finally bring the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles has his sights set on bringing in current executive of the year and Denver GM Masai Ujiri to run the Toronto Raptors.
According to a number of reports Leiweke is offering Ujiri the keys to the franchise and a 4 year deal worth upwards of $2.5 -$3 million per year. That would make Ujiri a very rich man and would be a significant pay raise on his current deal (set to pay him just over $500,000). An offer that will be hard to turn down since the Nuggets look unlikely to match dollar figures.
The offer has to be a tempting one for Ujiri. He would return to Toronto where he was given large opportunities with the Raptors franchise under Bryan Colangelo and would come with a much bigger profile as the reigning Exec of the year. This time around he would be calling the shots and would presumably garner a lot of media attention for his big move. And at $3 million per season he is looking at a huge pay raise.
Ujiri does have strong ties in Denver and is only part of the way through his plan to rebuild the franchise into a permanent contender in the Western Conference. So it remains to be seen whether he will make the move back to Toronto, a franchise in a bit of turmoil, but Leiweke’s effort has been an inspired one.
When Leiweke made the decision to let Bryan Colangelo focus on “Presidential matters” he decided he wanted this Raptors team to have his fingerprints all over it. He really needs to make a “splash” with this GM appointment. That’s what the big wigs at MLSE are expecting and what the fans in this city are hungry for.
Leiweke was brought here with much fanfare and the expectations are sky-high in Toronto. He came in and removed Colangelo who was a very capable and respected leader of Basketball operations, not just any replacement will do.
Leiweke will be judged heavily on the successor he chooses for Colangelo. He needs to hit one out of the park and Ujiri would appear to be that home run.
Ujiri, in his time in Denver, has been able to turn around the Nuggets despite the loss of superstar Carmelo Anthony. His moves have turned the Nuggets into one of the more dangerous teams in the West. That he did it with smart basketball moves and without boat loads of cash is another appealing part of his time in Denver. He has really learned to evaluate talent and spend wisely.
Toronto could use his basketball mind as they face an offseason with limited amounts of capspace, no draft pick, a coach in his last year of a contract and a major Bargnani problem.
Colangelo had the responsibility of making those moves taken away from him and now Leiweke needs someone he can trust to make some very difficult decisions. Ujiri is the guy that MLSE wants.
But can Leiweke lure him away?
The dollar amount that has been reported would seem to be a big reason for Ujiri to leave, as is the opportunity to work with his one time mentor in Colangelo. Many believe that Colangelo was kept in Toronto so that he could be a part of a team with Ujiri. Other than that Toronto offers a major challenge for Ujiri, one that he may be tempted to take over. He took over Denver is a very troubling time for the franchise, facing Carmelo Anthony’s free agency, and has made them stronger. He seems to relish challenges and, so far, has been up to whatever challenge he has faced.
If Leiweke can convince Ujiri to make the move back up North it might just be the first step in turning around the fortunes of this franchise.
Five years without playoff basketball in the city, the absence of a legit superstar, since the departure of Chris Bosh, and the rise of other sports teams in the city make this a very important year in Raptor land. MLSE needs an executive running the ship that can sort out the problems that exist within the franchise. They need someone who can do more with less and one whose name alone can garner respect around the league.
Ujiri is that guy.
Leiweke was hired because of his ability to bring in the best of the best. Ujiri is the best option out there for the Raptors and his appointment would be a very high-profile catch.
Sure there are other names being bandied about, but they are more fall back options. Kevin Pritchard is an option if he decides to look outside of his current contract with Indiana and Troy Weaver in Oklahoma City, one of the best executives in the league not in a GM role, is another solid, yet less flashy, addition.
Make no mistake though, Leiweke doesn’t want there to be the perception he hired his backup plan. He wants his first choice and he was hired by MLSE because he usually gets his first choice.
The ball is now in Ujiri’s court, but his eventual decision will have a lasting impact on Leiweke going forward. He was brought here with a reputation and it is already being tested.
This first move by Leiweke is a big one.
The Zan Tabak Herald