The New York Knicks want Masai Ujiri.
Even if it's a long shot given Ujiri is under contract with the Raptors through the 2020-21 season, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday that Ujiri is a prime target of Knicks owner James Dolan.
It's not too hard to figure out why.
Ujiri is perhaps the single-most revered and respected front office executive in the entire league. The architect of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, Ujiri checks seemingly every box.
How many executives would have mustered the courage to trade away his franchise's all-time leading scorer in his prime for a dinged up All-Star coming off a season in which he played just nine games? With no assurances of returning to health. And no assurances of re-signing beyond the one year left on a contract. And no assurances that he'd fit in alongside the rest of the roster, many of whom were close with the very player he traded away.
The trade for Kawhi Leonard may have been Ujiri's signature transaction, but it's far from his only win. Boiling down the legend of Ujiri to one swing-for-the-fences trade does a colossal disservice to the rest of his body of work.
How many front offices would have fired the Coach of the Year in order to hire a rookie coach with zero NBA head coaching experience?
How many front offices would have spent a first-round pick on Pascal Siakam, at the time a 22-year-old Cameroonian forward who had only been playing organized basketball since he was 17?
How many front offices would have seen value in a 6'1" undrafted point guard out of Wichita State that would someday receive a vote for Finals MVP?
How many front offices would have paid Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka a combined $165M in one offseason, fresh off a demoralizing sweep in the second round?
How many front offices would have traded a 26-year-old Jonas Valanciunas for a 34-year-old Marc Gasol?
Any of them individually grade out as higher than anything the New York Knicks front office has done over that same span and yet when considering New York's interest in Ujiri, two other moves stick out as ones which have surely caught Knicks owner James Dolan's attention.
Before arriving in Toronto, Ujiri called the shots for the Denver Nuggets.
It was Ujiri who helped orchestrate the monumental three-team trade that resulted in Carmelo Anthony suiting up for the Knicks. Even though Anthony was set to be a free agent in the summer of 2011 with eyes on signing with the Knicks anyways, Ujiri still convinced the Knicks to part with a package that included Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton among others.
But that's not where the genius lies.
A hidden wrinkle to that trade? The option to swap first-round picks in 2016… five years down the line! It's a move that even now continues paying dividends for the Nuggets long after Ujiri has moved on because that's the pick which ultimately became Jamal Murray, now the second-best player on a team contending in the West.
Two years later, Ujiri was named 2012-13 Executive of the Year, the final entry to his time with the Nuggets before moving onto the Raptors that offseason.
It didn't take long for Ujiri to come calling on the Knicks yet again.
Less than six weeks after taking the job in Toronto, Ujiri traded Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks for Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, two second-round picks and a first-round pick.
The first rounder?
None other than the pick swap he originally traded to the Knicks back in the Carmelo Anthony trade. That pick became Jakob Poeltl who of course was then the young asset Ujiri included along with DeMar DeRozan in order to land Kawhi Leonard.
And then there's the trade Ujiri never made with the Knicks.
Shortly after arriving in Toronto, Ujiri had his sights set on a total rebuild. That Bargnani trade was supposed to be merely the first in a series of moves that would have stripped the Raptors to the bolts.
In December of 2013, a trade that would have sent Kyle Lowry to the Knicks for Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace and a first-round pick was more than in the works. "That deal was done" said Lowry himself, until Dolan vetoed his front office and reneged on the deal.
Having been on the wrong side of the two aforementioned trades with Ujiri, Dolan wouldn't stray down that path a third time.
We all know what happened next.
The Raptors have made the playoffs every year since, Kyle Lowry blossomed into a six-time All-Star and Toronto won an NBA title. The Knicks haven't been back to the playoffs and have the NBA's worst record over that span.
So yeah… it's plain to see why the Knicks might want Ujiri.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.