Masai Ujiri has complete control of Toronto Raptors’ present and future

Not every move as Toronto Raptors general manager will be as elementary for Masai Ujiri as his first.

Getting a gift basket of Primo Pasta for Andrea Bargnani and the $23M he was owed over the next two seasons would have been received with grand celebration, let alone three-point specialist Steve Novak and the three draft picks he was able to extract from the Knicks for the highly scrutinized former No. 1 pick after just a few weeks on the job.

Armed with a five-year contract, Ujiri has a patient and principled vision as he strives to turn the Raptors into a contender, something Bryan Colangelo couldn't do, the man under whom he served as an assistant GM for two years in Toronto before leaving to run the Nuggets' basketball operations.

Too often during Colangelo's tenure he opted for the quick fix. He gave Jason Kapono a four-year contract worth over $20M; traded T.J. Ford and the draft rights to the 17th overall pick in 2008 and future all-star Roy Hibbert to Indiana for an aging and injured Jermaine O'Neal; signed Hedo Turkoglu as a free agent at the absolute peak of his value after Orlando's run to the Finals in 2009, threw a three-year, $36M deal at a 38-year-old Steve Nash, and traded for high volume scoring Rudy Gay midway through last season to make a run at the 8-seed in a last-ditch effort to save his job.

The roster Ujiri has inherited in Toronto has enough quality left over from Colangelo's push for the playoffs but also has the potential for maneuvering.

Gay has a player option for 2014-2015 worth over $19M, Kyle Lowry is a free agent as season's end, and aside from Jonas Valanciunas, the entire squad is in play. Even head coach Dwane Casey is entering the final year of his contract.

The Raptors, as presently constructed, should be firmly in the mix for the sixth, seventh, and eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference along with Atlanta, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington.

But among the six teams vying for the final three playoffs spots, Toronto is the most likely to trade short-term success for long-term sustainability of that success.

Trade being the operative word, as Ujiri's time in Denver is defined by two transactions.

He orchestrated the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York, getting valuable assets like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler in exchange for a star player destined to depart as a free agent. The return and Ujiri's handling of an undesirable situation was universally applauded around the league.

He also shrewdly added Andre Iguodala as part of the four-team trade that landed Dwight Howard in Los Angeles. Iguodala gave Denver an elite perimeter stopper as they went on to win a franchise-best 57 games.

The Nuggets made the playoffs the three years Ujiri was in charge but never progressed past the first round; the Raptors haven't even been that far since 2008.

The mission in Toronto is to get to that level and beyond, every year.

So what does Ujiri do to get there? Will he trade Gay? Could he move DeRozan or Lowry at the right price? Will Casey remain the head coach? What Ujiri does or doesn't do this season will have more to do with the Raptors' future prospects than their present state.

And he knows every decision won't be as easy as his first.

(Unless it's drafting Andrew Wiggins).

For more Toronto Raptors coverage, check out: Toronto Raptors are the ultimate swing team in Eastern Conference