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Siakam on return to Toronto: 'Coming into this building brings up a lot of things'

Pascal Siakam Pascal Siakam - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — A lot of things at Scotiabank Arena still feel familiar to Pascal Siakam, but he's already noticing some differences just a month after he was traded from the Toronto Raptors.

Siakam and the Indiana Pacers visited Toronto on Wednesday for his first game against the Raptors since he was traded on Jan. 17. He played the first eight years of his professional career in Toronto and was instrumental in the Raptors' championship run of 2019.

"It was weird," said Siakam courtside after morning shootaround. "I've never been to (the visitors') part of the building. Maybe during the playoffs I went to that side because I think the interviews were over there. There’s places where I’ve never been so it’s just kind of weird, to be honest.

"Just seeing the building, I have a lot of memories here, you feel comfortable. I know I have a different jersey on but just coming into this building brings up a lot of things."

In addition to winning the NBA Finals with the Raptors, he was a two-time all-star with the team, was named to the All-NBA team twice, and earned the league's Most Improved Player Award in 2018-19.

Every time Siakam appeared on Scotiabank Arena's video monitors during the singing of the national anthems before the game, the sold-out crowd of 19,800 cheered. He was also the last player announced during the Pacers' team introductions, with a lengthy video tribute playing to officially welcome him to the court.

"For me to come in here after eight years, just to see the reception, people being so genuinely happy for me — I think for me that was the most important thing," said Siakam after Indiana beat Toronto 127-125. "I got so many messages from people, just genuine love, and to me, that means everything.

"I appreciate everyone just for everything. It definitely means a lot. I'm humbled I couldn't really imagine that kind of reception. Thank you."

Siakam's warm welcome began on Wednesday morning as he excitedly greeted security guards, venue staff and reporters by name as he was leaving Scotiabank Arena's court following shootaround.

"I'm a guy that I get comfortable and I like certain things, so it was definitely an adjustment," said Siakam on his transition to the Pacers. "But I think the guys here just made it so much easier. Just support from the organization, support from everyone."

Andrew Nembhard, Indiana's 24-year-old point guard from Aurora, Ont., was certainly glad to have Siakam come to the Pacers after watching him help Toronto win the championship five years ago.

"I knew him a little bit before he came to our team," said Nembhard, who is represented by the same agency as Siakam. "He's the type of guy who is super unselfish but a winner so it was fun having him added to our team."

Before Siakam was traded there were several media reports that a rift had developed between him and Raptors team president Masai Ujiri, with no communication between either party for months. Ujiri acknowledged that in a post-trade news conference on Jan. 18 and publicly apologized for his role in he and Siakam drifting apart.

Siakam was gracious about the situation on Wednesday.

"Masai has been always a mentor, someone that I looked up to, but at some point it's like 'I'm growing, I'm a man,'" he said. "That communication, hey man, I understand it. I get it. I understand the business. I've been around, so I've seen things happen.

"I'm moving on from it. I'm in a situation like I said, where it just feels amazing and I think that at this point I've kind of moved on from it. I'm just not really like reflecting on that."

Siakam is averaging 21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game this season between Toronto and Indiana.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.