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Pascal Siakam’s “tumultuous” off-season: nothing more than fan and media fiction

It seems clear now that Siakam never wanted out, nor do the Raptors want him out.

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam recently sat down with Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett to clear the air on his turbulent off-season. But did any air really need to be cleared? Not from where I stand.

Unless you were living under a rock, you heard the murmurs of discontent that grew exponentially louder as the off-season continued. Siakam had a falling out with team. He’s disgruntled. The Raptors are looking to move on from him.

Some two months back, Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that “Pascal Siakam doesn’t want to go anywhere — and likely won’t.” To which I immediately replied, No duh.

That’s because he never thought about leaving in the first place. Just as the Toronto Raptors likely never thought about trading him. It was just the NBA media and ever-dangerous Twitterverse creating news and controversy where there was none. Chaos gets clicks, after all.

So what exactly was this so-called evidence to suggest that either side actually wanted to part ways?

Because of the endless trade rumours?

It seemed like almost every day, there was another Pascal Siakam trade rumour being floated. But they were just that. Rumours. Unsubstantiated pieces of fiction.

First of all, when was the last time the Raptors front office leaked anything? That was a rhetorical question. Because they haven’t. Ever. I doubt the media could even find out what the front office eats for lunch let alone what trades they have on their table.

Could the Siakam trade proposals have been leaked by the other teams? That’s more likely, but it’s still just one side of the equation. Good journalists generally require at least two sources to substantiate any information they’re given. And I can almost guarantee nothing came from the Raptors’ side.

The origins of the ever-spinning Siakam rumour-mill can likely be traced back to June when The Athletic’s John Hollinger wrote that Siakam’s name was one to watch in a potential trade with the Golden State Warriors.

“The Warriors now have the seventh and 14th picks plus last year’s second overall pick, James Wiseman, and there is a widespread expectation that the Warriors will use No. 7 and Wiseman, in particular, to seek more immediate upgrades to the roster. One name to watch: Pascal Siakam.”

This was not a report. Not a statement of fact. Not even a “sources say.” It was a totally made up fictional trade that popped into Hollinger’s head. But the NBA world ran with it like it was truth. And it spread like wildfire on amphetamines.

Not that common sense ever factors in here, but why would trading for Wiseman make any sense for the Raptors? After all the years and resources they put into developing Siakam — and how far he’s come since being a late first round bench energizer — they’re just going to punt on him and start over with Wiseman?

Then, of course, came the Siakam for Ben Simmons rumours. Because people assumed Siakam was disgruntled. So why not trade one disgruntled max player for another? Even if the bandied-about deal was simply Siakam for Simmons straight up (which it was not), I would never do that deal. And I don’t believe the Raptors would either.

Seriously. Who would you rather have? The guy who’s already proven to be the second best player on a championship team or the guy who pouts because the team isn’t built around him? The guy who’s improved his game dramatically every season or the guy who thinks a jumper is something you wear? The guy who’s never afraid to shoot or the guy who passed up a vital open dunk because he was scared to miss?

I don’t recall Siakam passing up the shot that practically sealed the championship for the Raptors. In fact, he went at and subsequently schooled DPOY winner Draymond Green, dropping him like Bambi on ice in the biggest moment of his career. Who was Simmons scared of? Trae Young? I’ll take Siakam every time, thank you very much.

But when it comes to all these trade rumours, as the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But in this case, I believe it was just some leftover dry ice.

Because Siakam had a “fight” with Nick Nurse?

It was reported that Siakam went off on Nurse following an embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in late March after he was benched for the entire 4th quarter.

To which I say, So friggin’ what?

You mean to tell me that in the entire history of sports, Siakam was the first player to have an argument with his coach? That at no time ever had an ultra-competitive player and an ultra-competitive coach momentarily clashed?

This kind of thing happens all the time. On the court. In the locker room. Stuff we never see or hear about. This time it just happened to be overheard and reported on.

Siakam said it himself, in his interview with Bennett, that it was blown way out of proportion.

“People made a big deal out of it. It’s two people that are passionate about winning. You know, wanting to win, and losing… It’s a player-coach relationship. It’s like things happen. You don’t agree, you disagree. And it is what it is. You move on.”

Siakam moved on. Nurse moved on. The team moved on. But it seems like no one else has.

With each subsequent NBA podcast I listened to since the incident, the number of games the team suspended Siakam for grew by one. When in fact, he wasn’t suspended. Nor was he fined $50,000 as The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported. Again, the Raptors run a tight ship. Whatever disciplinary measures were bestowed upon Siakam for his outburst were kept in-house.

Like I said, this is nothing new. During Casey’s tenure as Raptors head coach, it was reported on several occasions that Kyle Lowry and Casey butted heads. Was Lowry disgruntled? Did he demand a trade? No. They moved on. (Well, I guess you could say Lowry was always disgruntled.)

Draymond Green clashes with Warriors head coach Steve Kerr like every five minutes. And guess what? Green’s still there. Players get frustrated. Angry. It’s called competitiveness. It’s called a strong desire to win.

Personally, I never saw Siakam’s confrontation with Nurse as a big deal. In fact, I view it as good sign. That Siakam has heart and a winning attitude. That, like Lowry, he hates losing. Would you prefer that Siakam just accepted being benched? That he was perfectly fine with all the losses that were piling up during the season from hell? No, you wouldn’t. You’d be asking, Where’s his fight? The competitive edge? Doesn’t he want to win?

Because the Raptors drafted Scottie Barnes?

For some reason, the very instant that the Raptors selected Scottie Barnes with the 4th overall pick of the draft, it was a fait accompli that Siakam’s days as a Raptor were over.

Why? Because Siakam and Barnes are similar in size and can both play power forward?

This was the narrative on draft night, supported wholeheartedly by the ever-insightful Kendrick Perkins. And it just took off from there. Not only was Siakam disgruntled. But now the Raptors just drafted his replacement.

Um. Last I checked, it was 2021, not 2001. Today’s NBA is all about length, athleticism and versatility. The ability to play across multiple positions. To switch everything. Positionless f’n basketball. That Barnes and Siakam can’t co-exist because they’re both 6’9” is just ridiculous.

Like we didn’t just watch OG and Siakam play together over the last couple seasons? Sure, OG is a few inches shorter. But both can play small forward, power forward and small-ball 5.

By this same logic, Dalano Banton and Precious Achiuwa are Barnes replacements. I mean, they were drafted and traded for respectively after Barnes was drafted. And they’re also both 6’9”. So maybe the Raptors are looking to trade Barnes now.

Because Siakam needs a change of scenery?

Now this one I actually agree with. Siakam absolutely needs a change of scenery.

It’s called Toronto. Not Tampa. Not the Disney bubble. Tor-on-to.

Having to suddenly pick up and move to another city. And not playing any actual home games in 600 days. It’s going to grate on you. It would for anyone.

Because Siakam sucks?

Why? Because he wasn’t in game shape during the 2020 bubble after being stuck in his condo for four months? Because with no Kawhi Leonard, he suddenly found himself the number one target of every team’s defensive game plan after commanding little attention most of his career? Because Aron Baynes was constantly clogging the lane and so little of a threat that his man would help off him and onto Siakam? Because once he finally found his groove, he contracted COVID, lost 20 pounds and missed an entire month of basketball? Because he sustained a shoulder injury, which required surgery and which he is still recovering from?

And yet, despite all of this, he still managed to put up All-Star numbers. People act like he had a horrific season. Sure, there was a ton of inconsistency and his 3P% dipped below 30%. But in 56 games, his per-game numbers were outstanding: 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals and a career high 4.5 assists. Not to mention he was the team’s best defender not named OG.

Just think about it for a second. After his first couple of seasons in the league, if I had told you that one day he’d average these kind of numbers, you would’ve told me to check myself into the nearest rehab facility.

I’m sorry that he’s not Kawhi or that your expectations of him were way too high. I’m sorry that someone who’s only been playing basketball for 10 years didn’t put the team on his back the very first time he was thrust into the spotlight. I’m sorry that opposing defences are now designed to suffocate him at every turn. I’m sorry that he’s already reached unprecedented and unheard of heights in this league, transforming himself form a late round, high-energy role player into an All-Star and All-NBA player who was arguably the second best player on a championship team. My sincerest apologies.

All the “fans” who give Siakam a hard time and would love to run him out of town will soon be singing a very different tune, if they haven’t already. It should be abundantly clear to anyone who’s watched the first couple of Raptors games that there’s a Siakam-sized hole in this offence.

The cavernous scoring droughts? Yeah, that’s not going away any time soon. Sure. Part of it is the absence of Lowry. But it’s also what happens when you remove the team’s biggest offensive threat and someone who can play-make in the half court — something the Raptors are severely lacking.

Siakam’s playmaking and ball-handling skills have improved so dramatically that he can continuously bring up the ball, so that Fred VanVleet can play off of it. (I still believe relocating and spot-up shooting Fred is the best Fred.)

Siakam is also the only Raptor who can garner double teams on the regular, leaving players like OG, Chris Boucher, Gary Trent Jr. and VanVleet wide open. But that’s not happening right now. In fact, OG’s seeing more attention now than he’s seen in his entire life. That’s because the player with the strongest gravitational pull is currently sitting on the bench in street clothes.

Because he missed a couple game-winning shots?

So Siakam missed a few game-winners last season. Big whoop.

Do you know who else misses these high-pressured shots? Every other player in the league. Even the LeBrons and Leonards and Lillards and Durants and Currys will flub game-winners. It happens. It’s called being human.

And as I mentioned before, at least he’s not afraid to take these types of shots. Would you prefer that Siakam had the opposite problem — the Simmons problem — of shying away from the big shots? No, you most certainly wouldn’t. Because as the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Because Siakam isn’t “the man” even though he’s being paid like one?

This is true. Siakam has yet to prove that he can be the number one option on a winning team.

But really, how many clear-cut number one guys are there in the league right now? They don’t exactly grow on trees. You have LeBron. Durant. Leonard. Curry. Giannis. Lillard. Dončić. Jokić. The who’s who of the NBA elite.

So are you saying that the second Siakam put pen to paper on his max contract he should suddenly transform into one of the best players in the world? That his John Hancock should magically turn him into Kevin Durant? Signing a contract does not a hall of fame player make.

People still seem to equate the max with being the number one guy. Maybe that was true a few years ago. But that’s not the reality today. NBA teams are handing out maxes like Oprah handing out cars.

So are you telling me that newly-maxed Michael Porter Jr. is now the man in Denver? I think Jokić and Murray might have something to say about that. I mean, D’Angelo Russell was given the max for Pete’s sake. D’Angelo Russell!

All of this is to say that there never was a quote-unquote Siakam situation. There was no off-season turmoil. Just fabricated nonsense to get more clicks. Rumours made from rubbish.

Pascal Siakam didn’t want to move on. Nor did Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster or anyone on the team want him to move on.

As Ujiri said during his August press conference, “Pascal is an unbelievable basketball player… Pascal is here. Pascal is a Raptor, and he’s gonna play with us.”