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Making sense of the Pascal Siakam trade rumours

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After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Toronto Raptors are about to be back in the news for the next two weeks.

Toronto will have the No. 4 pick in Thursday’s draft. It should surprise nobody that the team is reportedly considering all of their options, from doing what everyone expects (Jalen Suggs) to a surprise pick (Jonathan Kuminga? Scottie Barnes?) to trading down to packaging the pick in a blockbuster deal to acquire a star.

Free agency will officially start next Monday at 6 p.m. ET with teams allowed to officially announce signings on Friday. Kyle Lowry is one of the most coveted players on the open market. The Raptors also have to deal with restricted free agent Gary Trent Jr. and see who they can pursue to upgrade the rest of their roster.

By the end of next week, we’ll have a pretty good idea how the Raptors view their current roster and more importantly, how the front office plans on returning to being contenders in the East.

It is what makes the latest rumours surrounding Pascal Siakam so fascinating. According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Raptors have been one of the most aggressive teams leading up to the draft and have made Siakam available in trade talks.

None of this should be surprising. Under Masai Ujiri’s watch, the front office has always been consistent in doing their due diligence and checking in on all available potential avenues of upgrading the team. A package involving Siakam and the fourth pick could net something interesting in return.

Where Siakam’s trade value currently stands is another interesting question. Since the pandemic interrupted Toronto’s 2019-20 season as defending champs, the 27-year-old forward has become the poster boy for everything that’s gone sideways for this Raptors team. Some of it comes with the territory of being elevated as a star player in the league (he was beyond disappointing in a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA bubble which came down to the final possession in Game 7), some of it a symptom of how fans treat players in the social media era (the hateful and racist comments on Siakam’s Twitter and Instagram pages after the loss).

The disastrous season in Tampa will be remembered through the countless times Siakam failed to deliver a winning moment in the final seconds of close games. You could make a montage out of it and call it the definitive 2020-21 Raptors mixtape. Of course, all of this ignores the value of Siakam as a two-way player. There are clear flaws in having him as a No. 1 option on offence, but we tend to focus on the ceiling of players and not as much on their floor.

At his very worst, Siakam is a player capable of making an All-Defensive Team and can be a highly efficient secondary scoring option on a championship team. These are not hypotheticals. Unlike many players who are still just skating by on potential, Siakam has already accomplished these feats in his career.

How the Raptors decide to pivot into the next stage of the franchise will start with Lowry’s decision, but whether they choose to move on from Siakam will speak volumes about how far that pivot goes. Siakam is making over $33 million for the next three seasons. On a contending roster where he’s a No. 2 option, that’s a reasonable price. Remember, the front office prioritized financial flexibility last summer to keep themselves in the mix for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free agency. In that alternate timeline, if the Bucks star had chosen the Raptors this summer, the rest of the roster would have fallen into place. Siakam and OG Anunoby would have joined the reigning Finals MVP to create a formidable frontcourt. Fred VanVleet and presumably Lowry on a new deal would form the starting backcourt. You fill out your bench with whoever and get right back into contention.

Pascal Siakam's name will be in the news a lot heading into Thursday's NBA Draft.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Pascal Siakam's name will be in the news a lot heading into Thursday's NBA Draft. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

With Antetokounmpo signed long-term in Milwaukee, that path is no longer available for the Raptors. There isn’t another way to rebuild this roster on the fly by adding a superstar without subtracting from the core. The reality is the Raptors need to restructure themselves and build from the ground up. It wouldn’t necessarily be a complete rebuild like Philadelphia and “The Process,” but imagine a roster without Lowry and Siakam, and it comes close. VanVleet and Anunoby would be the only holdovers from the championship team. The No. 4 pick, whoever the Raptors get in return in a potential Siakam trade, Trent, and Malachi Flynn would be part of the next era.

It would make the team worse in the interim, but it would also strip away the possibility of the Raptors being in the dreaded middle like they were last season, where the best-case scenario was a top-four seed and a brief playoff run if everything broke right, and the worst-case scenario was a play-in tournament spot without the possibility of a high lottery pick. The team expertly avoided the latter by essentially tanking the second half of the season and then found some luck from the lottery gods to snatch the fourth pick.

Ujiri and the Raptors have been notorious for not having any front office leaks on draft picks and trade rumours. Even the Siakam trade chatter appears to have come from sources on rival teams. But one thing Ujiri has made clear during his tenure in Toronto, and something he reiterated at his season-ending interview, is that his sole focus is winning another championship.

The trade rumours should be viewed through that prism. If the team believes a core group of Siakam, Anunoby, VanVleet, and the No. 4 pick isn’t that far away, then don’t expect Toronto to part with any of those pieces in the trade market this summer. But if Ujiri believes it’s time to pivot, then it’s possible the team will return home without Siakam and Lowry. In other words, the Raptors would have said goodbye to all five of their starters from the 2019 championship team.

One thing is for certain: this team will look significantly different than the one that last played at Scotiabank Arena. We’re about to find out over the next two weeks just how drastic those changes will be.

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