Masai Ujiri is a bold man.
The Toronto Raptors president built a sizable chunk of his Eastern Conference champion roster through trades, acquiring pivotal pieces Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka over the years. Thanks in big part to those (and other) big moves, his Raptors will square off with the Warriors in the NBA Finals beginning Thursday in Toronto.
With the Scotiabank Arena crowd cheering him on after Toronto's Eastern Conference finals-deciding win Saturday night, Ujiri made a couple of audacious proclamations in a postgame interview with TNT's Ernie Johnson.
"We came all this way to compete, and we want to win in Toronto -- and we will win in Toronto," Ujiri said to roars from Raptors fans when Johnson asked for his thoughts on a matchup with the Warriors.
How does he look back on the Leonard trade?
"He's been unbelievable," Ujiri said to loud approval from the home crowd. "He's the best player in the league, and we're happy he's in Toronto."
It's hard to blame Ujiri for being confident, nor should it be too much of a surprise.
For one, the Raptors rattled off four straight wins against likely MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the NBA's top seed in the Bucks. For another, Leonard is operating at the peak of his powers, averaging 31.2 points per game in the postseason.
On top of that, Toronto had just won the biggest game in franchise history, as the Raptors clinched their first-ever Finals appearance in 24 years as an NBA franchise. Plus, Ujiri once told a Toronto crowd "f--- Brooklyn" ahead of a first-round series with the Nets in 2014 and said a year later that "he ain't taking that back."
The Warriors are pursuing their fourth NBA title in five years, and don't need the bulletin-board material that the sixth-seeded Nets needed to upset the third-seeded Raptors five years ago. But five days before the Finals begin, it's nice to already see a strong dose of personality.