Raptors aim to dismiss Knicks' lawsuit, call it 'baseless'

In a sternly worded court filing Monday, the Raptors are seeking to dismiss the Knicks' recent lawsuit against them for allegedly conspiring to steal thousands of confidential scouting files, calling it "baseless" and a "public relations stunt" by the Knicks, according to a copy of the filing obtained by ESPN.

Further, the Raptors asked for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to adjudicate the dispute between the two Atlantic Division rivals, with a lawyer for Raptors owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment writing that the lawsuit "has no business wasting judicial resources given the all-encompassing arbitration clause in the parties' governing agreement."

In August, the Knicks sued the Raptors, members of the Toronto organization and a former Knicks employee whom they alleged "illegally procured and then disclosed proprietary information" to the Raptors.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Knicks accused Ikechukwu Azotam, who worked for the Knicks from 2020 to 2023, of sending the Raptors thousands of confidential files -- including play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files, opposition research and more -- after the team began recruiting him to join their organization in summer 2023.

The Knicks accused Azotam -- who worked for the Knicks as an assistant video coordinator, then as a director of video/analytics/player development assistant -- of violating a confidentiality clause in an employment agreement and alleged that members of the Raptors "directed Azotam's actions and/or knowingly benefited from Azotam's wrongful acts."

In Monday's filing, the Raptors' lawyer wrote: "The Knicks' conduct from the outset of this dispute leaves no doubt that their goal has been to elicit negative press attention against the Named Defendants rather than the pursuit of valid claims."

The Raptors' lawyer also wrote that the allegations were "false and overblown" and that the "alleged 'theft of data' involved little more than publicly available information compiled through public sources readily accessible to all NBA Members."

Monday's filing continued, "These were not the Knicks' team and player statistics, play frequency data, player tendencies or play calls, but rather those of other NBA teams -- including particularly the Raptors' own game film -- compiled from video of their games accessible to all NBA teams (and, indeed, the general public). In other words, they were far from confidential, let alone trade secrets. The Knicks surely know this."

An MSG spokesperson issued the following statement to ESPN on Monday: "As we have previously stated, given the theft of proprietary and confidential files and clear violation of criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this to federal court and are confident the judicial system will agree."

On August 25, 2023, roughly one week after the Knicks filed the complaint, the Raptors sent an email to NBA general counsel Rick Buchanan asking for Silver to assert jurisdiction over the dispute with the teams, pursuant to bylaw "d" in Article 24 of the NBA's constitution.

That bylaw states that "The Commissioner shall have exclusive, full, complete, and final jurisdiction of any dispute involving two (2) or more Members of the Association."

On August 26, Buchanan emailed the general counsel for Madison Square Garden Sports, asking for a response. On Sept. 7, in an email to Buchanan, the Knicks objected to Silver adjudicating the dispute, arguing that the bylaw doesn't give the NBA "exclusive" authority over criminal matters involving player, staff or teams.

"The law and public policy require that the parties continue to be afforded the due process of law in official court proceedings and that the NBA take no action to impede that process," a lawyer representing the Knicks wrote in the email. "We believe that the New York Knicks (and the Toronto Raptors for that matter) are required to provide ongoing cooperation, and further believe that any attempted intervention by the Commissioner in this dispute would be inappropriate, futile and to the determine of all parties involved."

One day later, Buchanan emailed lawyers representing both teams and stated that the league would abide by further proceedings in the Southern District Court in Manhattan "for a determination of whether this dispute should be adjudicated in federal court or before [Silver]."

During Raptors media day Oct. 2, Raptors president Masai Ujiri addressed the lawsuit, saying, "There has been one time a team has sued a team in the NBA. One time. Go figure."

Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković also addressed the lawsuit during the team's media day, saying, "I was surprised. I was shocked. I did not know where it was coming from.

He continued, "What I can say is, I know who I am. I know how my parents raised me. I know what I see every single day when I look in the mirror. I know that there's nothing that I should be worried about. And I cannot wait for this lawsuit to be over so everybody can find the truth."