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NBA / Aug 22, 2014 / 1:15 pm

How Tim Leiweke’s Departure Affects The Raptors & GM Masai Ujiri

Tim Leiweke

Tim Leiweke (John E. Sokolowski- USA TODAY)

Tim Leiweke announced yesterday he will be leaving his role as President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment by June 2015. MLSE owns the Toronto Raptors, which means this will have a significant impact on the basketball team.

Leiweke was brought on board last April, and one of the first things he did was convince general manager Masai Ujiri to join him in Toronto. The team was a surprising success last year, winning 48 games and the Atlantic Division title in the regular season. Together, Leiweke and Ujiri changed the culture of the franchise. You may remember Ujiri’s infamous “F— Brooklyn” rally chant before Game 1 of the first round against the Brooklyn Nets:

Standing right next to Ujiri was Leiweke. This might have been the case of someone letting the emotions of the moment get to them, or it was a very calculated effort by the two people in charge of running the Raptors to try and really bring the fan base together on a united front.

This is what Leiweke did. He was also the bridge between Ujiri and the ownership team. In the past, general managers like Bryan Colangelo had to get approval on deals by presenting them to the MLSE board of directors. While some variation of that process likely still exists, Leiweke was there to steer the ship, to make sure Ujiri could do his job without much interruption.

According to Cathal Kelly of The Globe and Mail today, there have already been frustrations on Ujiri’s side with ownership:

The past suggests that this corporation is not a friendly place to spend your peak professional years. In announcing his departure a year after his arrival, Mr. Leiweke hasn’t helped much on that score.

The present is built on a foundation entirely of his creation. Every one of his hires has plenty of other options.

Mr. Ujiri, for one, has been frustrated at the corporation’s initial reluctance to build his team a new $30-million training facility (a key recruiting tool). It’s only happening now because Mr. Leiweke went to war for him at the board level.

What’s keeping Mr. Ujiri here now, aside from a paycheque? Who is his rabbi in management?

It’s interesting to consider whether Ujiri would have made the jump from Denver to Toronto if he knew Leiweke was leaving after two seasons. And of course, it should worry Raptors fans whether Leiweke’s departure will mean that Ujiri is going to plot his own exit.

Regardless, Leiweke’s departure creates a huge hole for the Raptors organization. His successor will be expected to fill some big shoes. There will be pressure to keep the momentum of last season going. It’s not going to be easy.

What do you think?

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  • 2cents

    Thank you so much for this inside story Steve. I might be one of the few readers here who actually cares just as much about the product on the court as the management side of the NBA. Seeing as this is affecting my Raptors, this news is big. Lets hope it doesn’t mean we’ve seen the Raptors peak already…