Masai Ujiri on Raptors’ season: ‘I did not enjoy watching this team play’

Ujiri touched on Nick Nurse's firing, the plan going forward and the development of his young core.

Masai Ujiri addressed the media for the first time since the Raptors’ season ended with a play-in game loss to the Chicago Bulls nine days ago. The first thing on the vice chairman’s agenda was to address the firing of head coach Nick Nurse, which was announced only an hour before his press conference.

While the decision to fire Nurse wasn’t necessarily shocking, it was nonetheless difficult, as the former Coach of the Year has been with the franchise for the past decade. When asked about how the search for the team’s next head coach compares to 2018, when they released Dwane Casey, Ujiri admitted the approach will be different this time around.

“Honestly I never look back. Maybe one day in 20 years in a farm on Nigeria I’ll be able to look back on those things," Ujiri told reporters. "I don’t compare and look back. That was a different era, different time.”

Raptors president Masai Ujiri finally held his end-of-season press conference on Friday, a week and a half after Toronto's loss in the play-in game. (Getty Images)

The conversations between him and Nurse have been great, Ujiri added. He emphasized how he wishes nothing but the best for Nurse and his family going forward.

He also said that he saw Nurse right before his presser, and that the coach told him, “good luck with those guys,” although it is unclear who he was referring to.

Ujiri and Toronto also released an official statement regarding the firing of Nurse earlier on Friday.

“The decision to make a change like this is never arrived at easily or taken lightly, especially when it comes to a person who has been an integral part of this franchise’s most historic accomplishments, and who has been a steady leader through some of our team’s most challenging times,” Ujiri said in a statement. “As we reflect on Nick’s many successes, we thank him and his family, and wish them the best in future.

"This is an opportunity for us to reset, to refocus, to put into place the personnel and the players who will help us reach our goal of winning our next championship.”

Nurse departs from Toronto with the best winning percentage in team history with a record of 227-163 (.582).

When asked about what he thought regarding the team’s overall performance this season, the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year lamented that he didn’t recognize them.

"To watch us play this year was not us; I did not enjoy watching this team play," Ujiri said. "I think that spoke loud and clear to everything that went on this year, and it bothered all of us. It bothered Coach too."

Additionally, Ujiri highlighted that the Raptors were never truly together and that they lacked the excitement of years past.

"There was never that full excitement, full spirit, togetherness,” Ujiri said. “You all saw it, we all saw it. There’s no pointing a finger at Nick. I have to take responsibility too. This year wasn’t us. I think everybody saw that.”

Talking about the development of players on the roster, Ujiri said he saw progression. However, it did not coincide with team success.

“I think we got better individually but we didn’t get better as a team. So that’s on me," he said.

With regard to the young talent in Toronto, he admitted that the future is still hazy, but his belief in them is unwavering.

“I don’t know if we can tell what Koloko will be yet. I don’t think we can tell what Dalano will be yet… we’re still developing and this takes time. Yeah, maybe I could be wrong but we still believe in those kids as talents.”

One thing he did emphasize, though, is that Jeff Dowtin Jr. is part of the Raptors’ future.

“Jeff is going to be part of this team in the future," Ujiri said.

While promising star Scottie Barnes didn’t have a bad season, per se, many fans and pundits alike expected him to make a more significant jump during his sophomore campaign.

"We should always remember that Scottie is 21 years old. He's a baby," Ujiri said. "I understand the concerns about last summer. When you come into the league, and you're being pulled from different directions, it's sometimes tough.

"Scottie understands the discipline, Scottie understands his talent, Scottie understands what's at stake. I think you started to see that growth and that change over the course of the season."

Barnes averaged 15.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, shooting 45.6 percent from the field.

Another key talking point for Ujiri was the acquisition of centre Jakob Poeltl at the trade deadline. He called the 27-year-old a “championship piece,” and that he is the right centre for this team.

“I call players like that a championship piece… that calibre of a player to me is worth paying attention to," he said. "Everyone said to me ‘why don’t you have a centre? Why don’t you have a centre?’ It’s just about finding the right one.”