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An Ode To Pascal Siakam’s Legacy as a Toronto Raptor

Siakam’s time in Toronto has come to an end, but his legacy as the face of this era of Raptors basketball will live on forever.

Most Improved Player, All-Star, All-NBA, Champion.

All of the terms above are true, fitting descriptions of Pascal Siakam. Yet, there’s one that defines him like no other.

Toronto Raptor.

The Cameroonian forward said it himself in his goodbye video posted to his personal X account on Friday, along with his touching Player’s Tribune article.

Siakam didn’t just embody what it meant to be a Toronto Raptor. He defined it.

From a late-comer to the sport, to a late first round pick, to a bench player, to a starter, to a Champion, All-Star and All-NBA player, Siakam’s development proved what it meant to be a Toronto Raptor.

Resilient. Hard-working. Always growing, always looking to improve.

Of course, Siakam wouldn’t be the face of what it means to be a Toronto Raptor if it wasn’t for the biggest factor of all: committing to this city.

For a city and fanbase that has seen their fair share of star players, we’ve also seen them all leave. Whether it’s Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, or Kawhi Leonard, the top basketball stars that have come through Toronto always seemed to leave for greener pastures. That’s what made DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry so endearing - outside of their bromance. They chose to stay, they chose this city, and greater than all, they chose this country.

Under their guidance, so did Siakam. The kid from Cameroon all of a sudden was the biggest champion of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It wasn’t just the city of the team that drafted him, that was paying millions of dollars him to play a sport, it was home.

To make somewhere home, you first need to be there. The story of how Siakam got to Toronto, is just as great as him making it his home.

Drafted by the Toronto Raptors with the 27th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, you would think his story with Raptors’ President of Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri, begins there. It does not.

Long before riding the streetcar throughout the streets of Toronto (and being surprised you have to pay for it), 17-year-old Pascal Siakam was a kid from Douala, Cameroon with little interest in basketball. Despite his three older brothers - Boris, Christian and James - all garnering Division 1 NCAA scholarships to play the sport, Pascal was much more interested in soccer.

Dragged along by his brothers, Siakam attended one of former NBA player Luc Mbah a Moute’s basketball camps in Cameroon. Mbah a Moute, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks at the time, is also credited as the person who discovered fellow Cameroon NBA superstar Joel Embiid.

Mbah a Moute liked what he saw in the raw, lanky, but athletic 17-year old Siakam, and invited him back to his camp the following year. From that second year at Mbah a Moute’s camp, Siakam was selected to attend the NBA and FIBA’s collaborative Basketball Without Borders camp, where he would cross paths with his future employer and mentor, Masai Ujiri.

Ujiri noticed Siakam’s raw athleticism and praised him for his effort and high energy level. Under the guidance of Mbah a Moute, and being watch from afar by Ujiri, Siakam committed to basketball and made the move to the United States of America.

Bouncing from one basketball camp to the next, Siakam eventually settled at the prep school God’s Academy in Lewisville, Texas. It was in Texas where New Mexico State University coach Marvin Menzies approached Siakam to recruit him to play for the Aggies.

Committing to NMSU, Siakam redshirted the 2013-14 season due to injury. He would eventually make his way into the Aggies’ starting lineup for the 2014-15 season, but not before tragedy struck.

Back home in Cameroon, Siakam’s father Tchamo was killed in a car accident in October of 2014. Tchamo always wanted his sons to make it professionally in basketball, and his passing only fuelled Pascal’s drive. Writing “RIP DAD” on his shoes during that season and dedicating the reason he plays to his late father and family, Siakam began to turn heads at NMSU.

In what would be his last season at NMSU in 2015-16, Siakam continued to impress and have his name thrown around for the NBA Draft. Posting a stat line of 20.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game, the young power forward was well on his way to making it as a pro.

That fateful day finally came, when as previously mentioned, Siakam was drafted with the 27th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors. Having noticed the young Cameroonian all the way back in 2012, Masai Ujiri had followed his career and had every intention of pursuing and furthering his growth as a player.

From the jump, Siakam impressed the Raptors. A starter in his first career NBA game - marking the first Raptors rookie to do so since Jonas Valančiūnas in 2012 - his impact was immediate as he held his own defensively and registered nine rebounds along with four points.

In fact, Siakam started much of his rookie campaign. Averaging only 4.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 0.3 assists in that 2016-17 season, he started in 38 of his 55 appearances. Of course, much of that rookie season in the NBA is forgotten about now because of what came later that year.

Starting Siakam mostly out of necessity due to lack of depth at the position, Toronto was coming off of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and looking to contend for a championship. Seeking both an upgrade at the power forward position and to do the best thing for Siakam’s development, Ujiri and the Raptors acquired Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic.

Ibaka, who would also become a fan favourite Raptor, immediately slotted into the starting power forward position and relegated Siakam to the bench. Exactly one week after Ibaka’s acquisition, Siakam saw his first assignment to the Raptors’ NBA G-League (D-League at the time) affiliate, the Raptors 905.

The assignment lasted only one day, but would not be the only time he would be sent down that season. In total, Siakam was recalled or assigned 26 times between February 21st and April 28th of 2017. As the Raptors shifted focus to their playoff push, Siakam’s development became more important than trying to shoehorn the rookie into the lineup.

From the Ibaka trade onward, Siakam appeared in only seven NBA games during the rest of the 2016-17 season. However, he did make five appearances with the Raptors 905, starting all of them, and put up some pretty good numbers. Averaging 18.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists to go along with 2.2 steals and 1.6 blocks, Toronto knew they had a potential star on their hands if they handled this properly.

While the Raptors hosted the Bucks in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, Siakam and fellow G-League star Fred VanVleet were busy leading the Raptors 905 in a playoff run of their own. Sweeping both the Canton Charge and the Maine Red Claws in their best of three series, the 905 made the G-League finals and faced the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

The 905’s first loss of the playoffs came in the finals, sending the series to a fateful game three. The 905 took that game three and were crowned as the 2017 NBA G-League Champions. With the win, Siakam was not only a champion for the first time, but was also named G-League Finals MVP.

As the big league Raptors took down the Bucks and were set to face LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers - the team that knocked them out of the 2016 playoffs - Siakam was recalled from the Raptors 905 for the final time of his career. Unfortunately, Toronto would be swept 4-0, but the series saw Siakam play in his first two career NBA playoff games, carrying some added experience under his belt after postseason runs in both the G-League and the NBA.

Heading into his second season in the league, the Raptors were hoping for much of their young talent to take a step, not just Siakam. With Ibaka and the newly drafted OG Anunoby making up the two starting slots at the forward position, Siakam began his sophomore campaign off of the bench.

Starting only five games of his 81 appearances in 2017-18, the Cameroonian forward was the diamond in the rough of Toronto’s beloved Bench Mob. With undrafted sophomore Fred VanVleet, 2016 9th overall pick Jakob Poeltl, 2015 1st round pick Delon Wright, 2015 2nd round pick Norman Powell, veteran forward CJ Miles and of course, Pascal Siakam, the Bench Mob demonstrated the impressive development staff the Raptors boasted.

However, the Bench Mob was more than just a collection of homegrown, young talent (and CJ Miles). The group provided much needed energy both on and off the bench, going viral many times for their reactions on the sidelines.

The group helped the team to its best record in franchise history, a feat that stands to this day. At 59-23, Toronto finished as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and second in the NBA behind James Harden’s Houston Rockets. Siakam improved his stat line from his rookie season, posting 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2 assists a night. More impressive, however, were his per-36 stats. Playing less than 21 minutes a night off the bench, Siakam’s output when adjusted for an average of 36 minutes (roughly NBA average starter’s playing time), read as 12.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Clearly an efficient producer off the bench, Siakam was pushing for more playing time and to get back into the starting lineup for the following season, or even the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Raptors disappointed in the playoffs once again. After beating the Washington Wizards in six games, Toronto once again was set to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. In one of the most impressive and historic playoff runs of all time, 33-year old LeBron carried his Cavs to a second consecutive sweep of the Raptors in the second round, en route to James’ eighth straight NBA Finals appearance.

Not managing to pick up a win against Cleveland for the second straight year and ending with DeMar DeRozan fouling out of game four, Masai Ujiri knew it was time for big changes. Raptors coach Dwayne Casey was let go despite winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, being replaced by longtime assistant Nick Nurse. Many thought that move would be the biggest surprise of Toronto’s 2018 offseason, but we all know what happened next.

In a shocking turn of events one random July morning, it was announced that Ujiri had pulled off a trade for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard. A controversial and excruciatingly tough decision, the deal sent beloved Raptor DeMar DeRozan and young centre Jakob Poeltl to Texas. Toronto had enough of falling short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship and pushed all their chips into the middle with the trade.

Having brought in two starters in Leonard and guard Danny Green, OG Anunoby was pushed back to the bench. However, having sent out their bench big man in Poeltl, Toronto relegated Ibaka to the bench to play a backup PF/C role, thereby promoting Siakam back into the starting lineup for his third season.

In the new look Raptors starting lineup under rookie head coach Nick Nurse, Siakam’s game flourished. The power forward started all but one of his 80 games in 2018-19, massively improving his output to 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Reflecting back to his per-36 stats from the previous season, Siakam was actually able to increase his scoring production despite playing just under 32 minutes a night.

Finishing second on the team in scoring, Siakam and the Raptors headed into the postseason as the second seed in both the Eastern Conference and the overall NBA. Hosting the Orlando Magic in the first round, Toronto dispatched them in five games, despite dropping the first game of the series. In his first playoff series as a starter, Siakam improved his production to 22.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3 assists across the five game series to move on to the next round.

The second round brought upon one of the greatest series and moments in NBA history. Toronto versus Philadelphia, a back and forth matchup that saw both teams exchange blows and eventually go the distance to a penultimate game seven. Tied in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter, Kawhi hit “The Shot” to send Toronto to its second Eastern Conference Finals in the team’s history.

In the Conference Finals, the Raptors would go down 0-2, dropping both games in Milwaukee. The mainstream story that’s remembered is Kawhi Leonard telling the media “I’m going to Toronto for game three” when asked where he goes from here, and that he reportedly stepped up and told he team he would be guarding soon-to-be-named-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo from there on out. What’s forgotten is, in that game back in Toronto, Siakam finished as the game’s second leading scorer behind Leonard with 25 points, along with 11 rebounds and three steals, all while primarily being guarded by Antetokounmpo.

That third game proved pivotal, as the Raptors shifted the momentum of the series and won four straight to dispatch the top team in the NBA. Heading into their first NBA Finals in franchise history, Toronto was seen as the underdog as they took on a dynasty in the Golden State Warriors. Yes, the Warriors were missing Kevin Durant to injury, yet the trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green had already proved capable of winning a championship on their own.

With Toronto hosting game one of the finals, getting a win to establish home court advantage was key. They would do just that, on the back of Pascal Siakam as he dropped 32 points and led the team in scoring in the win. Toronto rode that momentum - despite dropping game two to tie the series - into Oakland and took both games on the road, giving them the chance to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy at home. A few missed shots late in the game gave the win to Golden State, and the Raptors headed back out on the road to try and secure their first NBA Title in game six.

Hoping to avoid playing another game seven, Toronto was up by one point with 30 seconds left in the game. Going up against a former Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green, the ball was passed to Siakam, who’s floater would drop in to tie him for the team lead in points and end up as the game-winning basket.

For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors were NBA Champions. While the Finals MVP would be awarded to Kawhi Leonard, Siakam served as the team’s leading scorer for four games during the run - the most by any Raptor not named Kawhi - and finished as the second leading scorer overall. In fact, the duo of Siakam and Leonard combined for the second most points ever in a single postseason.

As the celebration was underway on the court, Siakam only made himself more endearing to Raptors fans as he donned the flag of his home country of Cameroon. Only the sixth player from the country to have played in the NBA at the time, Siakam had made it from only picking up the sport at 17, to an incredibly valuable aspect of a championship team.

2019 NBA Finals - Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The trophy case would grow larger a few weeks later, as at the 2019 NBA Awards ceremony, Siakam was announced as the 2019 Most Improved Player. Securing 469 points out of a possible 500 maximum and 86 of a possible 100 first place votes, the Raptor won the award by a landslide.

Not long after the high of winning the championship and MIP had begun to wear off, reality set in for Siakam and the Raptors. On July 9, 2019, Kawhi Leonard announced he would not be re-signing with Toronto, and instead signed a four-year contract with the LA Clippers.

All of a sudden, Siakam’s meteoric rise from bench player, to starter, to second option, now had him as the top player and number one scoring option on a contending team. Realizing the situation on their hands, both having lost one of the greatest players in the league to free agency and Siakam’s substantial role increase for the upcoming season, Ujiri and Raptors management were ahead of the curve and locked up the power forward to a four-year, $136 million dollar contract extension in October of 2019.

Having committed to the team, city and country, along with his newfound stardom as an NBA champion and award winner, Siakam was set to lead the 2019-20 Raptors as they looked to repeat as champions. Boy, did he ever.

Seeing an increase of more than six shot attempts a night, Siakam posted the best numbers of his career to that point. With 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists, the forward led the team in scoring for the first time. Another first, he was voted in as a starter to the 2020 NBA All-Star game.

Siakam was selected by Giannis Antetokounmpo as the fourth overall pick of the All-Star draft, going immediately after Kawhi Leonard. Starting alongside team captain Antetokounmpo and fellow countryman Joel Embiid, Siakam put up 15 points on 10 shots as Team Giannis fell to Team LeBron, missing the target score by just two points.

As you may remember, that season was cut short by the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the Raptors to have only played 66 games. After months of waiting and deliberating, the NBA resumed the regular season for eight games before the playoffs would begin in August 2020 at the NBA Bubble in Orlando, Florida.

Toronto went 7-1 in those games, finishing second in the Eastern Conference and NBA for the second consecutive season. With a record of 53-19, the Raptors posted their best winning percentage in franchise history and fourth most wins in a season, despite only playing 72 games.

In those games, however, it was clear something was off about Siakam. Despite averaging more than 20 points on the season, he only posted 20+ points in two of the seven bubble games he appeared in.

Taking on the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, Toronto showed that their season was no fluke. Dispatching the Nets in a four game sweep, Siakam looked like he was right back to form, averaging just under 21 points on 18 shots per game. The team would move on to the second round, facing a much tougher opponent in the Boston Celtics.

Boston was able to contain Siakam for the first two games, where he mustered only 13 and 17 points on 16 shots a piece as Toronto dropped to an 0-2 deficit. The Raptors responded, tying the series at two games a piece, with Siakam bouncing back for 23 points on 23 shots in game four. Unfortunately, the bounce back was merely a flash in the pan, as the forward did not score more than 13 points in any of the remaining three games as Toronto lost in seven contests.

Lifting the spirits of Raptors fans after a disappointing end to the season was the release of the 2020 All-NBA teams.

Named to the 2020 All-NBA Second Team, Siakam had earned All-NBA honours for the first time in his career and became only the sixth Raptor to ever do so.

As the All-NBA nod lifted spirits, there was hope Toronto would keep up their winning ways in the 2020-21 season, whenever it was determined to begin. With the pandemic ongoing, the Canadian government had closed the border for non-essential travel and would not grant professional sports teams an exemption. Due to this, the Raptors would not be able to play the 20-21 season in Toronto, having to relocate to Tampa temporarily.

The Tampa season was forgettable for the entire team, but also personally for Siakam. Living out of hotels, practicing in a ballroom, playing games in front of an empty or limited capacity stadium with spectators who aren’t fans of the team, the Raptors missed the playoffs with a 27-45 record in the 72 game season. Even worse, Siakam’s play slipped at times, and he received racist comments online about his play and patented spin move.

The forward still posted 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists on the season, seeing an uptick in his playmaking prowess and responsibilities. Having missed the playoffs and not making the All-Star game - let alone All-NBA - the Cameroonian’s career linear progression had seen its first dip.

That off-season, the Raptors landed Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. It also saw Kyle Lowry move on to the Miami Heat, leaving Siakam as the top player and leader entering his sixth NBA season. That summer, the Canadian government loosened border restrictions, allowing sports teams to play out of their home cities once again.

Hope was in the air as the NBA returned to Toronto in October 2021, and it would prove worthy throughout the season. Barnes won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, Fred VanVleet flourished and became an All-Star as he took over the starting point guard role, and Siakam returned to form while leading the NBA in minutes per game as Toronto posted a 48-34 record. Putting up 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists, Siakam continued to improve his playmaking abilities, and once again led the team in scoring, as they returned to the playoffs. Despite not being named an All-Star for his 2021-22 campaign, Siakam did secure All-NBA honours for the second time, as he was named to the NBA’s Third team.

Returning to the playoffs for the first time since the bubble, Siakam’s game bounced back from the series against Boston, while the team did not see similar success. Facing Joel Embiid, James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto dropped the first three games of the series, before winning back to back and falling in game six. While the Raptors dropped the series, Siakam averaged 22.8 points across the six matchups, silencing the doubters and insults that he faced the last time he played post-season basketball.

Carrying that success forward, Siakam saw the best season of his career unfold in 2022-23. Posting a career high of 24.2 points per game, he added 7.8 rebounds a night and continued to improve as a passer with an increased 5.8 assists per game. In a strategy Raptors fans would become all too aware of with Nick Nurse, Siakam once again led the league in minutes per game. The forward filled in for Kevin Durant as an injury replacement for the 2023 NBA All-Star game, participating in the event for the second time in his career.

The only downsides to Siakam’s 2022-23 campaign were missing out on All-NBA and the lack of team success Toronto continued to witness. Falling to an even 41-41, the Raptors finished as the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference and participated in the NBA Play-in for the first time ever.

Hosting the Chicago Bulls, the Raptors were favoured to win and, through 36 minutes, they looked like they would be moving on to face the Miami Heat. A seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter was not enough, nor were Siakam’s 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists, as the Bulls came back late in the final frame. The forward’s performance led the team in scoring, but also led in missed free throws as he shot 5-for-11. As a team, Toronto shot 18-for-36 from the line, largely attributed to the playoff-like intensity and constant screaming from DeMar DeRozan’s daughter, Diar.

Disappointing in the post-season once again, the 2023 off-season seemed to be a pivotal one for the relationship between the Cameroonian forward and his team. Missing out on All-NBA honours meant Siakam was not eligible for a supermax contract extension unless he secured a spot on one of the 2024 teams. It was recently reported that the hold-up between the two sides was due to Toronto not being willing to offer Siakam a supermax contract, even if he were to be eligible in the 2024 off-season. With both sides at a stalemate, they entered 2023-24 with only that season remaining on the forward’s contract.

Rewinding a touch, the summer of 2023 also saw big changes overall in Toronto. The Raptors let championship head coach Nick Nurse leave as a free agent and brought in long-time NBA assistant coach Darko Rajakovic. Another free agent left - and was also replaced by a European - with Fred VanVleet getting $129 million from the Houston Rockets, only to be replaced by veteran backup point guard Dennis Schroder.

Rajakovic and Schroder were brought in to lead the team in a new, “selfless” direction, as the coach attempted to establish a 0.5 basketball system, where ball movement and hitting the open man was the most prevalent aspect of the offence.

The team wasn’t completely horrible out of the gate, with a 5-5 record in the first 10 games of the season, but those watching knew they weren’t playing winning basketball. Their play would soon catch up to them, as the Raptors would go on a 7-15 stretch to fall to last in the Atlantic division and sit with a record of 12-20 as of December 30th.

December 30th was the benchmark picked due to it being the day that Raptors management finally saw the writing on the wall and traded OG Anunoby to the New York Knicks. Anunoby was also on the final year of his contract and set to hit free agency in the off-season. Moving on from the long-time core player indicated the direction the team would be heading, with many expecting the same fate to befall Siakam sooner rather than later.

There were rumours at the 2022 trade deadline that the Warriors and Kings had expressed interest in the Cameroonian, but nothing ever materialized. The same was talked about all off-season, with some added teams being tossed in the mix here and there. Again, nothing materialized and all rumours were quiet throughout the first half of the season.

Posting 22.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists, Siakam was fitting in alongside the emerging stardom of Scottie Barnes. In the first two games without Anunoby, Siakam stepped up and led the team in scoring with 35 and 36 points. Toronto seemed to flourish with the additions of RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, going 3-1 in the duo’s first four games with the Raptors.

For a short while, the Siakam trade rumours were quiet, and it appeared that the Anunoby trade may have been all the Raptors needed to do. Then, Toronto dropped three straight games to finish out a lengthy western road trip, and capped it off with a fourth straight loss in their first game back at home against Boston.

Though it was not known at the time, the loss to the Celtics would wind up being Siakam’s last game with the Raptors. Revealed a day before the trade was finalized, NBA reporter Shams Charania detailed that Toronto and the Indiana Pacers were working to finalize a trade surrounding the Cameroonian forward.

The deal would be made official the next day, mere hours before Toronto was set to host Miami and Greatest Raptor Of All Time, Kyle Lowry. Arguably the most memorable Raptor since Lowry, Siakam’s legacy and devotion to this city left many fans in their feelings once it was official his tenure with the organization had come to an end.

Easily the face of the post-championship era of Toronto Raptors’ history - whether you called him Spicy P, P Skills, or simply just P - Siakam was much more than just a fan favourite.

His name is littered throughout Toronto’s all-time leaderboards. Siakam is the second Raptor ever - alongside Kyle Lowry - to reside in the top five in all-time points, assists and rebounds with the team. He also sits in the top five of all-time games and minutes played, and second in triple-doubles with five on the career.

Those numbers alone rank him as a top-five Raptor of all time, and then you get to his accolades. An NBA champion, Most Improved Player, two-time All-Star and All-NBA Second and Third team appearances, his eight year career in Toronto will go down as one of the greatest ever in team history.

So, a week out from the trade, we’ve had our time to adjust to a Pascal Siakam-less Raptors team, and can look back on his historic career in Toronto with fond memories.

On behalf of the team at Raptors HQ, the Toronto Raptors fanbase, the city of Toronto and the country of Canada, thank you Pascal Siakam!

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