Pascal Siakam is still getting used to being the veteran.
But the Toronto Raptors forward has been through enough in the past 18 months to step up into the role.
In a year of trade rumours, injury, COVID-19 and playing away from Toronto, Siakam's name buzzed all season long — especially once it became clear Toronto would miss the playoffs. Then, when Sportsnet's Michael Grange reported that the 27-year-old had a serious altercation with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, everything seemed to intensify.
But Siakam, like the veteran he's grown to be, has left it all in the past.
"I think that it’s time for people to let it go," Siakam said Monday on the Bob McCown podcast. "It's frustrating, losing. And those are things that two people who care about winning, you know, you go out there and sometimes you get frustrated. I think it was nothing more than that, just being frustrated about not being able to accomplish what we feel like we're capable of doing and it was just a disagreement, and we kind of moved past that a long time ago."
The reported conflict happened after Toronto's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in March, which extended the Raptors' losing streak to eight. Grange reported at the time that Siakam was unhappy about being benched in the fourth quarter, and vocalized it to Nurse "loudly and aggressively with words beyond standard cursing. It got personal, lines were crossed and teammates had to intervene, according to multiple sources."
Whatever it was, it has apparently been solved for a while now.
"It was just funny for me watching TV and seeing people still talk about it," Siakam told McCown. “Me and Nick, the whole organization, we focus on winning. We want to get back to who we know we are and I think that’s the only thing that’s on our minds."
The Raptors spent their pandemic year in Tampa, finishing the 2020-21 season with a measly 27-45 record. Siakam wasn't spared from the COVID-19 outbreak that hit the club in March. Then, once he was back to health and into basketball shape, an awkward collision in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies back in May sidelined the forward for the rest of the season.
"Thank you for always being there for all of us and being the super mom you are❤️
With dad being gone we haven’t been able to call a place home and it was always my dream to change that! 🏡
Feeling blessed that I can offer this to you and our family. ❤️"
- @pskills43 pic.twitter.com/jw8PuhyDxX
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 10, 2021
Siakam underwent surgery in the offseason and is expected to make a full recovery — although he likely won't be ready for the start of the upcoming campaign.
“For me, by the end of the season, it was the best I’d felt in a couple of years. Feeling really good about my body, feeling good about where I was physically and mentally. I was in a good place. … And then, I got injured. So, there were so many things that happened. It was an up-and-down season.”
The impermanent nature of the NBA was already clear to Siakam, who is now entering his sixth season with the team that drafted him with the 27th-overall pick in 2016. Kyle Lowry's departure — on a sign-and-trade that sent him to the Miami Heat — reminded Siakam of that reality.
"I was here when (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) were here, and we always used to watch them as our big brothers," Siakam told McCown. "It was them making sure to take us to dinner, do the little things for us and being there for us through our journey.”
But Toronto's roster looks a lot different from when Siakam first joined it — and even from the championship team in 2019. The forward predicts a lot of practice this year, as the Raptors welcome fresh faces like Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, David Johnson and others.
“We were in Vegas … Me, Fred (VanVleet) and OG (Anunoby) took all the young guys to dinner. I looked around and thought ‘I’m the oldest person here!’
"It was super funny, because it was things coming full-circle.”
Siakam embraces the responsibility. Even through a season of adversity and rumours, he managed to cobble together an average of 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists over 35.8 minutes per game in the 56 contests he did suit up for.
He's still in LA, but already got a new place in Toronto. Returning to a real home court may just be the constant he needs.
“Everything feels new again," said Siakam. "Going back to Toronto, I feel like I got drafted again.”
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