Raptors' Siakam facing another challenge in return to top form after surgery

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

A difficult season for Pascal Siakam has transitioned to a challenging off-season.

The challenge now will be returning to the form that earned him All-NBA honours in 2019-20 after rehabbing from shoulder surgery that is expected to keep him out of training camp and perhaps the first month of the 2021-22 season, which is reportedly set to start on Oct. 19.

The Raptors announced that Siakam had surgery last week to repair a torn labrum in his non-shooting (left) shoulder. He suffered the injury on May 8 during third quarter of the Raptors' loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Siakam didn’t play the remaining four games of the season, but there were no red flags raised at that time given the Raptors were clearly positioning themselves for the best spot they could in the draft lottery and were routinely resting their core players.

According to sources, the initial hope was that he could rehab the injury without surgery, but when it became apparent that approach wouldn’t provide the same certainty against re-injury in the future, Siakam opted for an arthroscopic procedure.

His surgeon – Dr. Neal ElAttrache – is the same doctor who repaired similar conditions in each of Paul George’s shoulders after he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2019. He also reconstructed seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady’s knee in 2008.

It’s not considered a serious injury – most "civilians" would simply rehab the joint, but in order to protect it against contact from hard screens or hard falls typical in an NBA game, surgery was viewed as the best course.

The hope is that Siakam will be able to resume individual on-court work as soon as July, but he will be held out of contact for most of the five months rehabilitation time.

The injury comes on the heels of a difficult 15 months for Siakam, who was riding high before the 2019-20 season was shut down due to the pandemic. An all-star that season, Siakam didn’t return to peak form in the bubble after the season resumed and played poorly for Toronto in the playoffs.

In 2020-21, Siakam got off to a slow start. He was suspended for a game by the team when he walked off the floor after fouling out against the Philadelphia 76ers on December 29th and got into an intense verbal altercation with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse on March 21st after he was benched for the fourth quarter of a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But eventually his form returned. From the beginning of April until his injury, Siakam averaged 24.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 47.9 per cent shooting. His three-point shooting — a struggle all year — was back in line with his career average at 31.6 per cent.

He made strides as playmaker and a decision maker on the floor in just his second full season as a primary option, and off the floor became more comfortable managing the scrutiny and demands that come with signing a four-year, $131-million contract that kicked in prior to the 2020-21 season.

“I think adversity obviously is not something that you want to go through,” said Siakam late this season. “But it helps you and sometimes we define the type of person you are (based on that). And I think going through adversity sometimes will make a difference (depending) how you come out (of it).”

Raptors teammate Kyle Lowry saw a younger version of himself in some of Siakam’s struggles.

“I think just as you get more mature you learn how to channel your energy and communicate better, right? He’s still a young man, he’s still kind of living his life and in going through ups and downs and becoming this guy — an all-star, a max player (and) also becoming a more of a man, right?” said Lowry earlier this season.

“He’s becoming more of a person that takes care of his family, he has to make decisions in life he has to worry about, you know, thinking about investments, to do this, that and the other,” said Lowry. “And the way you handle is you just keep growing, right? And sometimes you make mistakes and the biggest thing is you learn from whatever happens.”

Siakam was hopeful that he could have a strong off-season, pick up where he left off in April and keep adding to his game. He was looking forward to a full five months working with an enhanced training team that was assembled with the help of his agents after what was an abbreviated off-season last summer.

Instead, it will be a careful rehab process with an eye toward keeping the amount of time he misses as minimal as possible and resuming what was an uninterrupted upward trajectory in his career as soon as he can.

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