Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri talks DeMar DeRozan's return and Kawhi Leonard's impending free agency

Masai Ujiri (NBA Getty Images)

On Friday, Feb. 22, four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan will play in Toronto for the first time since being traded to the San Antonio Spurs on July 18, 2018.

Ahead of DeRozan's highly-anticipated return, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri stopped by ESPN's "Get Up" on Wednesday to discuss the rationale behind last summer's decision with hosts Mike Greenberg and Jalen Rose.

From the difficulties surrounding his decision and his confidence regarding Kawhi Leonard's impending free agency, here's what Ujiri had to say…

On why he decided to trade for Kawhi

"I think change is very hard for us and for everybody, but we had done the same thing for a long time and we had gone to a certain stage and sometimes in sports, you have to make that change.

"Secondly, DeMar was unbelievable for us, and he took us to this level - we needed to have that in Toronto - have a winning culture, and that really helped our franchise, but at some point you get a chance to get a player like Kawhi Leonard I think you either do it through a trade, through drafting or through free agency, and this was our opportunity."

On the difficulties surrounding his decision

"It's the toughest thing - I think the two toughest things in our business are when a player leaves his team and goes to another team. That's tough on the organization. And then when you trade a player, that's tough on the players and those are tough decisions, that's what comes with our jobs, that's what comes with the players' jobs and it's stuff we have to deal with in the business. It's never going to be changed or it can't be changed.

"Players have the freedom to go where they want, and teams have the freedom to move the needle whether it's get better or whether its rebuild, teams make that decision, so these are tough decisions to make and we in this chair have to make them and you have to have that ability."

On his relationship with DeRozan

"I think time heals those things, you know that's just the nature of our business. I did explain what happened at the time and I think everybody has kind of taken that next step and moved on.

"He's doing great in San Antonio, and we're trying to figure out the East and keep up with the big boys here. I think people move on and time heals stuff."

On Kawhi Leonard's impact

"[Kawhi] is incredible, brings it on both ends, shot maker.

"Having that calibre of a mind, I think also helps the rest of the players whether it's our young players, the Pascals, OGs or Freds, or even Kyle Lowry - it helps. The addition of Marc Gasol helps us in terms of Kawhi Leonard. Having him, it's a great level to be at, and you test yourself and everybody tests [themselves] as an organization to see where you can get to."

On the approach ahead of Kawhi's free agency

"I'd rather have the free agent in my building or in our organization for one year rather than a one hour pitch.

"I don't know how much of a chance we have with a one hour pitch but you have him for one year, he can deal with your culture, he can know what the organization is about, you can develop a relationship with him and we are developing a relationship with Kawhi and I think he's enjoying the organization. I think even medically, that's been huge for him - getting better and getting back to the level he was a couple years ago."

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