As upgrades to a front office go, moving from Ernie Grunfeld to Masai Ujiri is like trading in a rickshaw and getting a Bugatti Veyron.
The Washington Wizards are hoping to pull that off.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday that the Wizards are about to make a truly world-shattering offer to Ujiri to steal his services away from the recently crowned NBA champion Toronto Raptors, of which Ujiri is president of basketball operations.
ESPN Sources: The Washington Wizards are preparing to make a prolific offer to Toronto’s championship architect Masai Ujiri — as much as $10M annually — to run its basketball operations. https://t.co/KQf18YUkLN
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 14, 2019
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is set to formally reach out to Toronto ownership and request permission to talk to Ujiri during the offseason, the report said.
Wojnarowski reported that Leonsis will offer Ujiri not only the position of president of basketball operations for the Wizards but also a substantial leadership role in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Wizards and the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
Ujiri, before building a championship team in Toronto, was named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2013 after trading Carmelo Anthony for a package of players who went 57-25 in Denver in that season before collapsing in the playoffs under coach George Karl.
Ujiri’s successor, Tim Connelly, has run the Nuggets since, and he rejected an offer from the Wizards on May 20, preferring to see the 2019 Western Conference No. 2 seed through its own return to prominence and take on the challenge of navigating a post-Golden State NBA future.
The Wizards are currently run by interim general manager Tim Sheppard, who took over after Grunfeld was mercifully given his walking papers following yet another disappointing year.
The capped-out, hopeless franchise won just 32 games with a payroll that includes $20 million for Jabari Parker, $16 million for Ian Mahinmi and a supermax extension for John Wall that hasn’t even kicked in yet and is already, by dint of Wall’s declining health, one of the worst contracts in sports.
Reading that, you begin to see why Connolly looked at the Wizards’ offer, looked at his current situation in Denver and gave Washington a “thanks but no thanks” response.
According to Wojnarowski, the Wizards also have interviewed Oklahoma City Thunder executive Troy Walker and former Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry, but Ujiri would be their ultimate prize as one of the most sought-after front office minds in sports.
The 48-year-old Ujiri still has two years on his contract, which means Toronto must ultimately grant permission before the Wizards are allowed to speak to him, under league tampering rules.
It will be interesting to see how things shake out with the Raptors and impending free agent Kawhi Leonard, who just became only the third man in NBA history — after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James — to win NBA Finals MVP with two different teams.
If Leonard walks, it might be easier for Ujiri to look at Toronto, say to himself, “My work here is done,” and go try to make chicken salad out of the chicken not-salad that is the Wizards franchise.
But if Leonard re-signs, Ujiri would get the chance to have a proven championship superstar to build the next great NBA dynasty around, and in that case, the Wizards could offer Ujiri the winning Powerball numbers and a chance to become the most powerful man in Washington outside of politics and he’d still be a fool to take it.
Furthermore, Candace Buckner of The Washington Post reports that the Wizards do not have the “imminent” plans that ESPN reported are in place.
Are the #Wizards pursuing Masai Ujiri? According to a person close to the team and is aware of its immediate plans, that is not the case.
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) June 14, 2019
But David Aldridge of The Athletic said this has been in the works for over a week now, with only the ongoing NBA Finals standing in the way of the Wizards making a move, keeping in line with Wojnarowski’s report.
As @TheAthleticDC has been reporting since June 5, the Wizards have been waiting until the end of the Finals to talk with Toronto’s Masai Ujiri. They are now expected to reach out. League sources say the offer could be as high as six years and $60 million: https://t.co/HdB5YGIzlU
— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) June 14, 2019
If Ujiri decides to stay in Toronto, it will be a disaster for the TV ratings but a huge boost for Raptors fans.
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