The Toronto Raptors make history Tuesday night as they begin their reign as NBA Champions with a banner raising and ring ceremony at Scotiabank Arena.
As they met for their final practice Monday, there was no shortage of storylines to sort through but the day started with the best kink of news: The Raptors had finalized an agreement with Pascal Siakam on a four-year extension worth 25 per cent of the salary cap, projected to be worth $130 million.
The deal included incentives that could increase the value significantly. If he makes second-team all-NBA the deal will be worth 28 per cent of the cap. A first-team all-NBA nod and the deal comes in at 29 per cent, and if Siakam is NBA MVP his deal would command 30 per cent of the cap and potentially be worth $156 million.
The Raptors had a choice to push the deal off until next summer as they would have been able to match any offer Siakam would have received and retain some cap flexibility in the process, but they chose to sign their most promising player immediately.
“I think it’s hard to predict what would happen over the course of the year,” said Raptors president Bobby Webster. “I think ultimately the success of last year, Pascal’s hugely important role on that team, Pascal’s ascension to potentially being a foundational piece for us carried the day.”
A chance to reflect
For Siakam, the deal was a milestone. He became the first player taken 27th overall or later in the draft to get a max extension out of his rookie contract. It represents the fulfilment of a personal vision for the rangy forward from Cameroon.
“From the first time I got in the league, I always used to tell Masai that I wanted to change how Africans were viewed, it wasn’t just about running and dunking and being an energy player, it was about trying to change a generation behind me,” Siakam said.
“[To] Make sure I go out there and be someone that people can look at and see my story and strive to want more. That’s something I’ve always done from the first day I got here. Obviously understanding my role but also striving for more and I’ve done that and I’m going to continue to do that, work hard to be the best player that I can be.”
For Siakam there’s a bigger mission at work.
“I think just doing something like that is definitely going to change the minds of a lot of kids from Africa that look up to me and don’t think that things like that are possible,” he said. “They can look at my story and see the journey and how there were a lot of ups and a lot of downs and I just stuck to whatever I believed and continued to work hard to be able to be in this position.
“It’s a blessing, man, there’s nothing more I can say. It’s amazing for my family, for myself.”
A big part of Siakam’s story is how he is living out a dream envisioned by his late father, Tchamo, who impressed upon his sons – Siakam is the youngest of six, with three brothers and two sisters – that playing in the NBA would be the ultimate goal. He never saw his youngest live out that vision as he was struck down and killed by a car on Oct. 23, 2014 while Siakam was at New Mexico State. His father is never far from his thoughts, especially during moments like these.
“I don’t know,” Siakam said when asked what he thought his father might say in the moment. “I ask that question every day, coming in today, driving to practice because I had to sign before practice, that’s what I was doing. I was going through my mind, trying to have a conversation, fake a little conversation with him and what he would say to me at this point and just imagining. It’s crazy. It was definitely something special just thinking about it and I think obviously he would be proud of me, but I wish he could actually say that to me.”
What else would he want to hear?
“That he’s proud of what he’s accomplished all his life and what he’s done to make sure we’re good as his kids, he did a great job, he raised an amazing son and someone that kind of like represents him and who he was as a person, somebody that worked hard and loved everyone and showed love to everyone and did it the right way, just continued to work.
“I would just hope that he would see that in me.”
The only downside of the deal? Getting dinged with some dinner bills.
“Yeah, after the congratulations that was all I heard. ‘You are playing the next 25 dinners.’ I mean I’m still on my rookie contract. I told Fred [VanVleet], we were going to do a commercial together and he was like, ‘Are you sure you still want to do it?’
“I’m like ‘I’m still on a rookie contract so I still need the money right now.’”
We can’t hear you
The Raptors have been roundly ignored by pre-season prognosticators. When Kawhi Leonard left in free agency, he took any chances of a meaningful title defence with him. That is the standard analysis.
The Raptors aren’t buying it.
What can this version of the Raptors accomplish?
“A lot. It’s a good team,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I don’t know how it will all shake out, but it’s a good team that’s very capable of winning a lot of games and being really tough to beat, that’s one thing. We got a smart team. They are able to adjust quickly on the fly in games, they can adjust from game to game. We’re tough to beat.
“I keep saying this, there are some really special players on this team. I think they can do a lot. They like to guard. They know how to guard. They can move the ball. They can shoot the ball. I have a really good team.”
VanVleet knows the doubts are out there. He’s fine with it. He and his teammates get to express themselves on the floor beginning Tuesday night.
“I don’t think much of it. I’m used to it as this point. On this team, personally, playing for three, going on four years now, I’m used to [being overlooked], it’s status quo. We got to see the two sides of the extreme in the 24 months, from getting swept [by Cleveland in the 2018 playoffs], to trading a franchise player, to getting Kawhi, to struggling a little with injuries, almost losing to Philly, then winning it.
“We’ve been on all sides of the spectrum. The best part is, you get to see that all of that noise is just bullshit and noise. Good, bad or otherwise you just take it in stride.”