TORONTO — The Raptors have turned into a model franchise, run by arguably the best general manager in the business in Masai Ujiri, who has built a powerhouse.
If Knicks owner James Dolan was watching from home Wednesday, he’s got to be even more impressed than ever with the job Ujiri has done in Toronto.
Even in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s free-agent defection to the Clippers, the Raptors have remained potent and moved to 13-4 after their 126-98 blowout of the Knicks on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena.
Knicks coach David Fizdale, who could have Ujiri as his boss one day, learned plenty as a coach from the Raptors’ run to the 2019 NBA championship when they toppled — and disfigured — the Golden State dynasty.
After the whipping, Fizdale said: “Fantastic defensive team. They deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done with selflessness. They run the floor hard for each other, cut hard for each other and move the ball selflessly. We can learn a lot from this team. … If you go back and watch that Finals, it was a different guy for them every night. They didn’t care who was scoring.’’
Toronto does everything Fizdale wants his Knicks (4-14) to do. The Raptors are even led by the NBA’s most underrated coach, Nick Nurse, who didn’t get enough national acclaim for upsetting the Warriors and outdueling Steve Kerr.
Ujiri made a gutsy call in firing Dwane Casey before last season and promoting the young assistant whose claim to fame was coaching in England.
“Their speed is incredible,’’ Fizdale said of the Raptors. “They can really shoot the basketball. They’re one of the most unselfish teams I’ve ever seen.”
Fizdale also gave immense credit to Marc Gasol as a top-notch defensive center. Fizdale feuded with Gasol in Memphis, leading to his ouster as coach and subsequent signing with the Knicks. Now he’s no sure thing to finish his second season out in New York, unless Dolan pulls the plug first on team president Steve Mills.
Dolan had interest in pursuing Ujiri, the former Nuggets GM, after firing Phil Jackson in 2017, but the draft compensation was too large, according to sources. Instead he promoted Mills. There’s speculation Dolan would make another run at Ujiri if he gets a chance.
“He’s the best GM in the league, why wouldn’t Dolan be interested if there’s an opening,’’ one NBA source who has spoken to the Knicks said.
It was a garbage-time festival in the fourth quarter. Allonzo Trier, after being glued to the bench for six straight games, finally appeared midway through the final quarter and put up 10 points in just 7:03, making 3 of 4 buckets.
Knicks rookie forward Ignas Brazdeikis, like RJ Barrett a native of the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, also got into the game for the last 9:35 and finished with two points but got beat on defense by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Barrett picked up the assist on Brazdeikis’ bucket. Brazdiekis has played five G-League games, averaging 16 points.
“Any opportunity you get especially in a blowout game like that, it’s an opportunity for [Trier] to find rhythm and Iggy got to play in his hometown,” Fizdale said. “There’s no perfect formula but you get an opportunity, you take it.’’