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Sources: Raptors expected to move or extend Siakam ahead of trade deadline

Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam - The Canadian Press

TORONTO – In talking to people around the NBA, it’s clear that the OG Anunoby deal will have a direct impact on Pascal Siakam’s future in Toronto. What’s less certain, at least for now but likely not for long, is how last weekend’s blockbuster deal with New York affects the team’s leading scorer and all-star forward.

The overwhelming consensus from pundits and several plugged-in league sources is that Siakam will be the next to go, as Raptors team president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster continue to retool around Scottie Barnes and, now, the recently acquired Immanuel Quickley.

And he very well could be. That they just got younger, pairing an ascending 24-year-old guard (and 23-year-old Canadian RJ Barrett) with the 22-year-old Barnes, doesn’t seem to bode well for Siakam, who will turn 30 before the end of the season.

But, as one source close to the situation cautioned this week, “don’t be so sure.” It’s complicated and it’s fluid, but with about a month to go before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, many are expecting some closure, whether that comes in the form of a trade or a new long-term contract.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered an extension,” another source said.

In other words, there’s a wide range of potential outcomes, and nobody can be sure of how it will all shake out because, true to form, the Raptors are said to be keeping their options open and holding them very close to their chests.

After more than 12 months of speculation, they finally moved one of their coveted veteran players last Saturday. That it was Anunoby, not Siakam, caught most of the league off guard, as did the timing (six weeks before the deadline) and the trade partner (a team that is suing them).

The deal – which sent Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn to the Knicks in exchange for Quickley, Barrett and a 2024 second-round pick, via Detroit – officially signalled a shift in philosophy for a franchise that is now fully committed to building around Barnes, who is in the midst of a breakout third season.

The belief is that they are listening to offers for Siakam, and will continue to listen ahead of the deadline, but at least to this point, none of those talks have gained much traction. “Nothing is close,” said a source, which is why the possibility of an extension is very much in play.

If the Raptors can’t find an offer that meets their asking price, which has been and remains steep, they’re not going to trade Siakam just to trade him, nor should they. But they also can’t risk losing another key piece – and the last remaining player from their championship core – for nothing in free agency this summer.

Siakam, who’s set to hit unrestricted free agency in July, can sign an extension worth up to roughly $200 million over four years until the end of June. The Raptors have yet to offer it or even open contract negotiations, and it’s unclear how those talks would go when or if they do. Historically, Ujiri’s front office has prioritized term over annual salary in deals with their veteran players, and if it comes to it, a three-year offer at just under Siakam’s max wouldn’t be surprising. But would something like that be enough to appease Siakam and his camp, who are assuredly looking to get the most out of a contract that will take the two-time All-NBA forward through his prime years?

As a pending free agent, Siakam holds considerable leverage in what happens over the next month. Now that January is upon us, he is no longer eligible to sign a long-term extension with a team that acquires him mid-season. Before pulling the trigger on a trade, any interested team will be reaching out to Siakam’s representatives looking for some assurance that he’s willing to re-sign with them over the summer. Without those assurances, it’s hard to see any of them giving up that kind of assets the Raptors would need to justify making the move. Meaning that Siakam and his camp can essentially block a trade to a specific destination, or any destination, if they choose. Think of it as a no-trade clause without actually having a no-trade clause.

It’s led a couple of league sources to wonder whether the Raptors’ unusual, and at times disrespectful, treatment of Siakam dating back to last summer has been intended to force his hand, or worse, push him out.

Something like that is hard to fathom and, if there’s any truth to it, would be even tougher to condone given what Siakam and the organization have meant to each other and been through together over the past eight seasons. Siakam came to Toronto as a relatively unknown 27th-overall pick out of Cameroon and has evolved into a two-time all-star and All-NBA player, an NBA champion and, at worst, a top-30 player in the league and top-5 player in franchise history – one of the most remarkable success stories in pro sports.

“I’m so proud of him,” Ujiri said after Siakam overcame his on and off court struggles and off-season shoulder surgery to reclaim his pre-pandemic form during the team’s feel-good 48-win 2021-22 campaign. “I want that guy on my team. I want that kind of fighter on my team… That’s who we want to go to war with, to battle with.”

But after their disappointing 2022-23 season ended with an embarrassing play-in loss to Chicago, Ujiri and Toronto’s front office cut off almost all communication with Siakam last summer, leading the seven-year vet to wonder whether he was being punished, according to a source close to the player. The lack of contact was especially strange, with Siakam entering the final year of his contract. Typically, players of his calibre don’t get that close to free agency without signing an extension. Ujiri’s very public message to Siakam on Media Day: you’ll have to earn it – the natural implication being that he hadn’t already.

“We do believe in Pascal,” Ujiri said back in October. “We believe that a lot of our players didn’t play the right way last year and we want to see them play the right way. I said that we were selfish and I’m not running away from that. We were selfish and we did not play the right way. So let us see it when we play the right way.”

After a slow start to the season, Siakam has been as good as ever. He’s averaging 25.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 58 per cent from the field over the past 14 games. Since being mired in one of the worst shooting slumps of his or anybody else’s life – he went 5-for-52 from deep during a 15-game stretch in November – he’s hit 46 per cent of his three-point attempts over that span. He’s adapted to new head coach Darko Rajakovic and a system that’s seen him get fewer touches, take fewer shots and play fewer minutes. And he’s done it all while remaining a consummate professional, relentless worker and good teammate, despite hearing his name come up repeatedly in trade speculation – something he’s had to get used to over the past 12 months.

How close was Siakam to getting traded over the summer? It depends who you ask, but there was clearly some very real interest from multiple teams – most notably Atlanta and Indiana – and some very real consideration from the Raptors. Those teams remain in the mix and several others have shown interest, to varying degrees – Sacramento, Dallas, Memphis and Detroit among them. Philadelphia and Golden State could come calling, if they haven’t already, and they just might be interesting enough to push for Siakam’s approval.

There are hurdles, in addition to getting Siakam’s blessing. The Raptors have indicated that they won’t consider offers centred on draft compensation – those packages are out there, as they were for Anunoby, but Toronto is targeting young players with star upside.

Just ahead of Friday’s game in Sacramento, Shams Charania of The Athletic identified the Kings as a serious suitor for Siakam. Less than two hours later, he reported that they were pulling out. Truth be told, it probably didn’t even take that long for talks to fall apart if Sacramento maintained their reported reluctance to part with emerging sophomore forward Keegan Murray.

Is there a deal to be made around disgruntled Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga, who the Raptors would’ve scouted extensively before selecting Barnes fourth overall – three spots ahead of Kuminga – in 2021? Indiana and Atlanta aren’t lacking for blue chip prospects – Pacers swingman and Canadian Bennedict Mathurin and Hawks breakout third-year forward Jalen Johnson, to name a couple – but are they willing to include them in an offer? How does Toronto feel about Jaden Ivey, the former fifth-overall pick who has quickly fallen out of favour in Detroit, or Dallas’ Josh Green?

These are all things to explore over the coming weeks. All the while, they’re evaluating. Evaluating – it’s become a bit of a buzzword in Toronto, one that elicited eye rolls from the Raptors faithful until recently. The sense prior to last weekend’s trade was that the front office had exhausted their evaluation period, that they had seen enough to know what that team was capable of, and what it wasn’t. They didn’t disagree, as it turned out. Now they actually have something to evaluate.After beating Cleveland on Monday, the debut of Quickley and Barrett, Toronto split the first two games of a tough six-game West Coast road trip, though Friday’s loss in Sacramento was hard fought (alas, the Kings hit 21 of their 38 three-point attempts). It’s too early to say with any kind of certainty this new-look group can work long-term, but they’ve shown enough through three games to intrigue.

Even if trading Siakam is his preferred path forward, Ujiri has shown a willingness to let his teams and players dictate his next move with their performance, and call an audible when the situation warrants it. Siakam’s name will continue to be a popular one in the rumour mill between now and the deadline, but rest assured, the Raptors are in no rush to make another move. They can wait this out until Feb. 8, if need be.

And perhaps it does end with the most awkward contract extension in recent memory, where neither the team nor player feels great about the other. For the Raptors, maybe it makes more sense to sign Siakam now and explore his trade market again in six months when he isn’t on an expiring deal and presumably has more value. For Siakam, or any player, no matter how scorned, turning down that much guaranteed money is never easy. In the player empowerment era, where free agency is all but extinct, it’s not uncommon for stars to re-up with their club, take the pay cheque and figure things out from there. A long-term deal doesn’t mean what it used to. It locks you into a salary, but it certainly doesn’t marry you to the team.

One way or another, the Raptors-Siakam saga seems destined to come to a head. Clarity is coming soon.