Toronto Raptors president says team needs off-season 'culture reset'

By The Sports Xchange  |  May 9, 2017 at 2:49 PM
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The Toronto Raptors are about to head in a different direction after a disappointing playoff showing.

Team president Masai Ujiri made it clear an overhaul is coming when he said "we need a culture reset here," while speaking to reporters in his season-ending news conference on Tuesday.

Toronto was dispatched in the second round of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, one year after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

"We need to figure out how we can win in the playoffs," Ujiri said. "That's the goal."

The Raptors have participated in the playoffs in four consecutive seasons under coach Dwane Casey and behind the stellar backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

The stakes were at their highest this season when Toronto was primed to battle the Cavaliers after winning two games against Cleveland in last season's conference finals.

Yet the Raptors saw their regular-season victory count drop from 56 to 51 to finish third in the Eastern Conference.

And the playoff push never came. Toronto struggled to get past the upstart Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the first round and then were swept by Cleveland, placing the whole operation under the microscope.

Decisions must be made but even Ujiri has no guess on what they will be.

"Talking now is (expletive), basically," Ujiri said. "It's absolutely (expletive) why we need to do this today. I can't tell you that I've made a decision on anything."

The questions include the work done by Casey, who just completed his sixth season in Toronto.

"It was a difficult situation for him," Ujiri said of Casey. "There are things I questioned. I think our style of play is something we're really going to evaluate. There are times Coach did a great job, and there were other times we struggled."

There will likely be upheaval on the player front after Lowry wasted little time declaring that he will opt out of the final season of his contract.

The star point guard averaged career highs of 22.4 points and 7.0 assists this season and was set to make $12 million next season. He figures to at least double that amount as part of a big-money, five-year deal on the free-agent market.

Pressed about the possibility of returning to Toronto, Lowry repeatedly ran end runs around the line of questioning.

"I'm gonna say it one more time: Only thing I've thought about is opting out," Lowry said. "Which I will do. And getting better as a basketball player. Those two things."

Toronto forward Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker also will be free agents.

The one guy most likely to be retained is All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who has four seasons remaining on a five-year, $139 million contract he signed last summer.

DeRozan would like to be part of a title winner in Toronto and will be observing the offseason moves closely.

"We're close. But saying that, when you're close, you still feel so far," DeRozan told reporters. "It's kind of like being in traffic. You gotta go two blocks but if there's traffic, it can take you an hour to get somewhere that's two minutes away. I say that to say this: We're close. It's a matter of doing the one right thing the right way that makes everything else click."

What that is remains a mystery to Ujiri and the Raptors.

"We've tried what we've done so many times and it hasn't worked," Ujiri said. "We have to go a different direction, do something different. I don't know now what it is."

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