Masai Ujiri is leaving Denver to take over the basketball operations for the Toronto Raptors.
A person with knowledge of the move told The Associated Press on Friday that the NBA’s executive of the year has agreed to a deal with the Raptors. The person requested anonymity because the deal has not been officially announced.
The 42-year-old Ujiri has been hailed as one of the rising stars among NBA executives thanks to his deft handling of the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York and his ability to assemble a relatively starless roster that still managed to be a formidable contender in the Western Conference.
Ujiri will be returning to Toronto. He was the assistant GM for the Raptors for three seasons before leaving for the Nuggets in 2010.
Yahoo Sports first reported the deal.
Ujiri, whose contract with the Nuggets was to expire on June 30, had been weighing offers from both Denver and Toronto.
Team president Josh Kroenke told The Denver Post a week ago that he and Ujuri had agreed in principle to a contract extension, but once the Raptors came calling, he felt obliged to let Ujiri interview with his old team.
Ujiri did a masterful job of reshaping the Nuggets into a Western Conference contender ever since Anthony forced his way out of Denver.
With nary an All-Star this season, the Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 games and went an NBA-best 38-3 at home to finish third in the powerful Western Conference, helping Ujiri garner the NBA’s Executive of the Year honor to go with George Karl’s Coach of the Year award.
When Tim Leiweke took over as CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, he was looking to make a big splash, and he did just that to lure Ujiri back to where his career took off.
Denver has a history of paying its front-office architects below-market salaries, from Kiki Vandeweghe to Mark Warkentien and Ujiri, who was one of the league’s lowest-paid GMs with an annual salary south of $1 million. The Nuggets could look to Pete D’Allesandro, Ujiri’s right-hand man in Denver, to take his boss’ place, but he might also follow Ujiri to Toronto.
The potential for awkwardness exists in Toronto where Bryan Colangelo, Ujiri’s former boss with the Raptors, was recently stripped of final say on basketball matters, with Leiweke looking for a new voice to lead the franchise that has missed the playoffs for five straight years.
“There is accountability here and we need a new set of eyes and a new thinking,” Leiweke said last week.
But Colangelo’s contract was extended and he was moved into a new role, something that he admitted made him “a little disappointed.” Ujiri will report to Leiweke and have complete authority on basketball matters.
“Bryan’s probably ticked off at me,” Leiweke said. “There’s no probably. He’s ticked off at me. This isn’t his perfect world, either. But to his credit, he accepts it.”