TORONTO — About 90 minutes before becoming the first NBA coach to face a team that’s suing him, Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic defended his “integrity” and said the truth will eventually clear his name.
“Support from the beginning was just fine because we talked about it, we explained what happened or what did not happen. I know who I am, I know my integrity, I know who I represent,” Rajakovic said. “I represent one amazing organization and people in the front office and the players. I’m really looking forward for all of this to be solved and for everybody to find out the truth. I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Rajakovic was accused by the Knicks of plotting to steal thousands of files of scouting information through Ike Azotam, a former Knicks video coordinator who was hired by the Raptors in the offseason. Specifically, the Knicks allege Rajakovic “conspired to use Azotam’s position as a current Knicks insider to funnel proprietary information to the Raptors to help them organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff.”
That’s a damning introduction for a rookie head coach, but Rajakovic, a Serbian, said Friday that it hasn’t affected his job.
The Raptors were 9-10 heading into the Knicks game.
Darko Rajakovic says the truth will eventually set him free, insisting his innocence. AP
The suit, which was filed in August and remains unresolved, turned into mudslinging between the two Atlantic Division foes through court filings.
The latest was the Knicks’ response to the Raptors’ motion to dismiss and included, among other things, an argument that the damages will exceed $10 million and accusations that commissioner Adam Silver is too compromised to fairly arbitrate the dispute.
But it’s a rivalry in court, not on it.
Knicks players wouldn’t discuss the issue.
Azotam, who remains employed by the Raptors, was spotted hugging a Knicks staffer before the game.
Rajakovic then evaded a question about whether there’s any extra juice to the matchup.
“Tonight is going to be a great game,” Rajakovic said. “Two good teams are going to compete against each other and basketball is always the first plan.”
Former Knick Ike Azotam is accused of giving the Raptors the scouting information. New York Knicks
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau offered, “Obviously I can’t comment on that. It’s a legal matter.”
While the animosity probably hasn’t trickled down to the players, a good question is whether this will affect any potential trade negotiations.
The Raptors could be a seller at the deadline with a fringe playoff roster.
Pascal Siakam, who is operating on an expiring contract after failing to come to terms on an extension, and OG Anunoby, a two-way threat who recently switched agencies to CAA, are two of the bigger names circulating the rumor mill.
Precious Achiuwa and Gary Trent Jr. are also pending free agents, thus potential trade chips.
Toronto’s Masai Ujiri will try to find the right deal but owners on both sides have veto power.
In the aforementioned latest court filing, the Knicks singled out Raptors minority owner Larry Tanenbaum to argue that the dispute shouldn’t be arbitrated by Silver, claiming the commissioner is biased toward the Raptors while insinuating Silver rigged Tanenbaum’s election to the Chairman of the Board of Governors.
It was an explosive allegation from the Knicks, which followed their explosive allegation against Rajakovic.
“I’m looking forward to the end of this,” the Raptors coach said.