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Lewenberg: Ujiri bides his time after moving Bargnani

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Josh Lewenberg
7/10/2013 8:24:44 PM
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TORONTO - After 10 days of anticipation -- and fear that, because this is the Raptors, something could and likely would inevitably go wrong -- the news Toronto fans had been not-so-patiently waiting for was finally made official Wednesday.

Andrea Bargnani is no longer a Raptor.

For the organization, its exasperated fan base and the former first-overall pick himself, this new beginning has been a long time coming. For Masai Ujiri, the franchise's fifth and newest general manager, this was the first order of business. A move that once seemed impossible was one the Raptors' prized executive knew he had to make a reality before he can truly begin to put his fingerprints on this roster.

"He always had spurts where he showed brilliance and showed a complete game and then sometimes he struggled," Ujiri said of Bargnani, succinctly summing up what Raptors fans have come to realize after seven years of watching the seven-foot enigma. "I felt it just came a point in time where both sides [needed to] move on and start all over again."

In exchange for Bargnani, who will get his long awaited fresh start with the Knicks, Toronto receives sharpshooting forward Steve Novak, veteran centre Marcus Camby and guard-forward Quentin Richardson -- both of whom may never play for the team -- in addition to a first-round pick in 2016 and two second-round selections; one in 2014, the other in 2017.

For a plethora of reasons, Bargnani had fallen out of favour in Toronto. Four of his seven seasons with the Raptors ended prematurely due to injury, including each of the last three. In each of the previous two campaigns he missed more games than he played. Naturally his durability, conditioning and toughness have all been questioned while his defence and rebounding have remained well below what is expected from a seven-footer being paid over $10 million annually. His three-point shooting, once seen as and perhaps still believed to be his strength, has been on the decline over the past four years.

He may succeed in New York. He may not. For all of his skill and upside, which is still applicable even at the age of 27, this was a no-brainer for Ujiri. As a result, the return for Bargnani -- while greater than most expected -- doesn't necessarily indicate what's next for Ujiri and the Raptors.

"We're beginning to kind of see a little bit and that's based on gathering as much information as you can, talking to teams and all that staff," said Ujiri, who continues to play his cards close to the vest. "So you get to paint the picture a little bit in your head but I don't think that's something I can discuss at this time."

Once again Ujiri preached patience, a strategy that worked quite well for him in Denver.

The Atlantic Division picture has been painted pretty clearly. New York and Brooklyn are swinging for the fences while the Celtics and 76ers have gone all in on what they hope will be speedy rebuilds. Then there are the Raptors, smack dab in the middle. Without a definitive path and without the urgency to declare one. If you're looking for Ujiri to commit to a direction -- one way or the other -- you may be out of luck, at least for now. Rushing into anything is just not his style.

"I'm looking at this situation and we're going to take it as it comes and see what comes our way," the Raptors' GM stated. "We're going to be aggressive out there but we're also going to see what we have on our team instead of doing something stupid. If something reasonable comes our way and we feel that it's something that's going to help the Toronto Raptors than we'll do it but other than [that] this is our team and we'll keep plugging away."

"We have to continue studying the team and studying what's out there," he continued. "What are we going to do, throw players away? We're not going to do that. I think winning is what you want to build around."

That is not good news for those pushing for a complete tear down, otherwise known as a "tank job." If Ujiri has a direction in mind he's keeping it to himself, but the reigning executive of the year does appear to be comfortable keeping his options open, rolling with the punches and allowing the market to dictate the optimal course of action.

Asked if he would be content heading into the regular season with this roster, as it's currently constructed, Ujiri indicated he would be "completely fine with that."

Ujiri made a name for himself with the Nuggets, where he built a winner on the fly, reading and taking advantage of trends in the market, making the most of the assets he had at his disposal. If it's not broke, don't fix it. Expect him to deploy a similar tactic in Toronto.

"For me, patience is the key. I think we all have to be patient. We have a good window for a couple years here and I think sometimes you can't just react and try to do things just to do them."

Masai Ujiri (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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