Sports Pulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the blockbuster trade between San Antonio and Toronto.
Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri opened Friday’s news conference regarding Wednesday’s blockbuster trade for Kawhi Leonard by apologizing to outgoing All-Star DeMar DeRozan.
“I want to not only apologize to DeMar DeRozan for maybe a gap of miscommunication but also to acknowledge him and what he’s done here with the Raptors, for this city, for this country,” Ujiri told reporters. “There’s no measure to what this kid has done. We appreciate him and I promise you that we’re going to celebrate him in the best possible way that we can as long as I’m here.”
In an emotional and candid news conference that focused far more on DeRozan than their incoming star, Ujiri said he wished he would’ve handled things differently in terms of recent conversations with DeRozan.
USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick reported Wednesday that the four-time All-Star was told by Ujiri at Las Vegas Summer League that he wouldn’t be traded.
“Maybe my mistake was saying there was nothing imminent at the time,” Ujiri said. “I acknowledge that if it was a mistake or I apologize to them if it was a mistake. At the time, we were fourth on the ranks of trying to get anything done.”
Ujiri also said part of the “miscommunication” was that he outlined what he expected of DeRozan moving forward. Regardless, the trade for Leonard left DeRozan frustrated and questioning the Raptors’ loyalty.
DeRozan signed a five-year deal with the Raptors in 2016 without taking a meeting with another team.
“I understand with DeMar he was unbelievably loyal to us,” Ujiri said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s honestly like why I will not be doing this one day because the human part of this business is to me what it’s all about. He has no faults. Our team is just not at that level.”
Ujiri’s mandate is to elevate the Raptors to a championship contender, a status they’ve flirted with for several years. He said that’s ultimately what prompted the trade for Leonard and veteran Danny Green.
“You can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again,” he said.
The Raptors have made the postseason five consecutive years but have bowed out to the Cleveland Cavaliers three years in a row. They reached the conference finals in 2016 but fell to LeBron James’ Cavs in six games. Ujiri said the opportunity to snag Leonard, which he said was only possible because of the uncertainty surrounding his quadriceps injury, was too tempting to pass.
Leonard isn’t in Toronto yet and hasn’t taken his physical but is expected to in the coming days. Ujiri said that despite reports suggesting Leonard has no interest in playing in Toronto (he can be a free agent next summer), he got no sense of negativity from Leonard when they talked on the phone.
The Raptors made a massive gamble and seem just as curious to discover whether they’ll appeal to Leonard as the rest of the NBA.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Singer on Twitter @msinger