NBA

Masai Ujiri considered taking year off from Raptors after contentious contract discussions, per report

Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri signed a new deal earlier this year, much to the relief of the team’s fans. But until now, no one knew just how close Ujiri was to taking a year off due to contentious contractual discussions. 

A new report released on Monday by the Toronto Star indicates that former Rogers Communications chair Edward Rogers attempted to derail plans to re-sign Ujiri, and even made a personal call to tell Ujiri that he was not worth the money he was being offered — somewhere around $15 million per year. 

The entire report is worth reading, if only because Rogers’ plot sounds like something out of “Succession.” His interactions with Ujiri were only part of the scheme, which also involved the Toronto Blue Jays and complicated spin-off companies. In terms of the Raptors, though, the most important information is this:

Prior to his run-in over Ujiri, Edward was still chair of Rogers Communications, which owns a 37.5-per-cent stake of Raptors owner MLSE. Rival telecom BCE Inc. owns another 37.5 per cent and Larry Tanenbaum’s Kilmer Group controls the balance.

After weeks of negotiations that began in mid-July, both MLSE chair Tanenbaum and Bell were on board with offering Ujiri a sweetened package that included incentive pay tied to a future increase in value of the Raptors.

Tanenbaum and Bell were ready to lock Ujiri down, but, according to two sources close to the MLSE board, Edward Rogers was the holdout.

He told his partners he felt the compensation was too high, and, according to the MLSE sources and a source close to the NBA, Rogers was convinced the Raptors could be managed without Ujiri’s help by existing general manager Bobby Webster.

The sources said some time after the meeting, Rogers called Ujiri and told him he wasn’t worth the money he was being paid. The NBA source said the call left Ujiri feeling so angry and disrespected by Rogers that he considered taking a year off as president of the Raptors.

Ujiri was eventually convinced to remain on board by Tanenbaum and other high-ranking executives of MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.), who assured him he would be protected from having to deal with Rogers. Furthermore, Rogers did not have final say over the Raptors’ decision-making process, which meant Tanenbaum overruled him on the details of Ujiri’s contract. 

In a statement to the Star Sunday, Rogers said he has “respect” for Ujiri, but complained about those who had leaked details of the events. 

“Masai understands better than anyone that negotiations test both sides,” Rogers said. “The best deals involve compromise and leave all parties feeling like winners. It is unfortunate that certain individuals continue to breach confidence by leaking and inappropriately divulging confidential board proceedings. Their motives are transparent. I won’t be dissuaded from doing what’s right for Rogers Communications Inc., its shareholders, employees, customers and other stakeholders.”

There’s a whole lot going on here, and this report is a good reminder that none of us really understand how absurd things can get behind the scenes. But while this obviously isn’t how they would have wanted things to play out, the Raptors were ultimately able to keep Ujiri, and that’s the most important thing for the future of the franchise. 

Ujiri pulled off the trade for Kawhi Leonard, helped the Raptors win their first title in franchise history in 2019, and has overseen a franchise-record seven straight playoff appearances. He has proven time and again that he’s the right man to lead this club into the future. 



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