‘Wide-eyed’

Ujiri: Rap­tors need a ‘cul­ture re­set’ af­ter play­off sweep

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY LORI EWING

A 51-win sea­son and a sec­on­dround ap­pear­ance in the post­sea­son wasn’t good enough for Ma­sai Ujiri.

And now the Toronto Rap­tors need a “cul­ture re­set,” the team pres­i­dent said, af­ter a post-sea­son that ended in a sec­ond-round sweep and saw them look­ing a “lit­tle wide-eyed” against LeBron James and the Cleve­land Cava­liers.

Ujiri will spend the com­ing weeks eval­u­at­ing all facets of the fran­chise, but what he knows right now is that the Rap­tors’ style of play, which got them to play­offs in four con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, isn’t work­ing any­more and needs to change. And he hopes that change comes with Kyle Lowry on board.

“It’s our job to try and get Kyle to come back and do it the best way that we pos­si­bly can,” Ujiri said. “We want him back, he has been a huge part of the suc­cess here.”

The three-time all-star point guard will opt out of the fi­nal sea­son of his con­tract and be­come a free agent on July 1, and gave no hints Tues­day as to his plans.

Speak­ing to re­porters a day af­ter the Rap­tors cleaned out their lock­ers, Ujiri called the Cleve­land se­ries dis­ap­point­ing, say­ing “I some­times feel like that wasn’t our team that we saw out there.”

“We are go­ing to hold ev­ery­body ac­count­able be­cause we need to. We need to fig­ure it out.”

Ujiri, who’d just come from a long morn­ing meet­ing with coach Dwane Casey, pin­pointed the team’s one-on-one play­ing style.

“Be­cause we’ve done what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked,” Ujiri said. “It’s easy to de­fend in my opin­ion when you play one-on-one. It’s pre­dictable, we feel we have to

go in an­other di­rec­tion. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it will be the new thing in the league that wins.

“We’re try­ing to be pro­gres­sive thinkers, and not just con­tinue to pound, pound, pound on some­thing that hasn’t worked.”

Ujiri said there “is com­mit­ment” to Casey, who is one sea­son into a three-year con­tract worth $18 mil­lion, and noted the coach had a tough job try­ing to meld all the pieces af­ter Fe­bru­ary’s ac­qui­si­tion of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing Lowry missed 21 straight games af­ter hav­ing wrist surgery.

“I think there are times that I think coach did a great job and I think there are times that we strug­gled,” Ujiri said.

It’s dif­fi­cult to gauge, he added, how suc­cess­ful the team might have been had Lowry had more time to gel with the new­com­ers.

Ujiri scoffed when asked if he could keep both Casey and Lowry, say­ing talk of the two butting heads had been blown out of pro­por­tion.

“Last year 56 (wins), this year

51. So they should hold hands and sing hur­rah and kiss, and we win 30 games? What the hell is that do­ing for any­body? Noth­ing. Zero,” he said. “Some point guards are like that, tough­minded point guards. Tough­minded coaches are like that.”

The Rap­tors have four free agents in Lowry, Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Pat­ter­son, and — like a domino ef­fect — many of the big de­ci­sions in the next few weeks de­pends on who stays and who goes.

Ujiri said he’ll lay out nu­mer­ous sce­nar­ios for the team’s own­er­ship. He said the own­ers are “100 per cent” OK with spend­ing the money re­quired.

And he’s not op­posed to re­build­ing, if nec­es­sary.

“We have to find a way to mo­ti­vate peo­ple, we have to find a way to mo­ti­vate fans, we have to find a way to play hard on the court, and we have to find a way to find the right tal­ent, to make sure that we’re cre­at­ing a sense of hope in this or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Ujiri said. “And no, we’re not afraid of that at all. Be­cause it might be the right way to go, you never know.”

CP PHOTO

Toronto Rap­tors guard DeMar DeRozan (right) con­grat­u­lates Cleve­land Cava­liers forward LeBron James at the end of the game fol­low­ing the Rap­tors’ loss to the Cav­a­lier dur­ing NBA play­off ac­tion in Toronto on Sun­day.

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