Masai Ujiri is keeping it real about where he stands with former Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan nearly two years after he dealt DeRozan away.
In an interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson on Monday that aired on the NBA’s social media accounts, the Raptors GM said he had mended his relationship with ex-coach Dwane Casey but still had a lot of work to do with DeRozan.
“It’s not easy,” said Ujiri, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “If you have that human part of you, you feel it in your heart. I will never ever forget having to do that with Coach Casey and walking to his office, waking up that morning. Many times I wanted to move it and change it or think that you’re not making the right decision. It was incredibly hard, because Casey is an incredible person, and so great to work with … DeMar, I was in the hotel in Kenya, and I walked around that hotel at 4 a.m., 5 a.m. for a couple hours, trying to gather up enough strength and courage to make this phone call. I will never forget it.
“With Casey, it has gotten so much better now with his family and him,” Ujiri added. “With DeMar there is still plenty of work to be done. But, by the grace of God, it will all get better. We have to continue to make these decisions that are tough. But that’s the business of basketball, and the position we are in.”
Casey was let go as Raptors coach following the 2017-18 season, his seventh in charge, and has since become head coach of the Detroit Pistons. DeRozan, a lifelong Raptor, was traded to the San Antonio Spurs weeks later in a deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto. The moves ultimately paid off when Leonard and new head coach Nick Nurse led the Raptors to the 2019 championship, their first in franchise history.
There was some recent buzz about DeRozan potentially returning to Toronto, but it sounds like there is still a gap with Ujiri that would have to be bridged before that even becomes a possibility.