Raptors' Siakam opens up about overcoming obstacles, becoming 'the guy'

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43). (Chris O'Meara/AP)

With franchise icon Kyle Lowry now a member of the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors are -- definitively -- Pascal Siakam's team.

The 27-year-old will be counted on to be a leader, a scorer and an always-on superstar if Toronto has any chance of returning to the post-season in the near future. And it's an opportunity he's been waiting for, after a campaign where his place within the organization wasn't always clear to him.

"Obviously, Kyle was there, being a point guard. Kyle was, to me, always the greatest Raptor of all time. I think he was always like, 'I was the guy.' I had the contract, but I never really felt like I was the guy, to be honest," Siakam said in an interview with Sopan Deb of The New York Times. "For me at that point when I started becoming that person, I just felt like there wasn’t that much level of communication, to be honest. And that was the only thing really that I felt. It was like, 'We got you the max contract, but are you the guy?' I think that’s something that I was struggling with."

Those mental hurdles were just one of a number of significant obstacles that were thrown Siakam's way in a trying 2020-21 season, his first on a four-year, $137-million contract. From his team being displaced to Florida due to pandemic border closures to contracting COVID-19 himself and having his season cut short by a shoulder injury, Siakam faced many new challenges that led to some frustrating results.

The low point of the season came when he was suspended one game for an outburst towards head coach Nick Nurse in the locker room. Siakam described the incident as "just an argument" and said he and Nurse "are on good terms."

"It was after a game. I’m just so frustrated... And we’re having a losing season and I think those things happen between a coach and a player," Siakam said. "Obviously, I probably used language, uh, people use. It is what it is, but I don’t think it was such a big deal because after that situation happened, we talked."

Looking back on it all, Siakam admitted the challenges were only further exacerbated by social media because the comments from so-called fans went to a much darker place beyond just critiquing his play on the court.

"I think for me, just seeing the negativity and all the slanders about me, it just made me feel some type of way, obviously, to be honest," he said, adding he tries to avoid using social media himself. "...I didn’t want to know about it, but I heard it was like, racist comments and things like that. For me, those were just the things that were sad about the whole thing."

Siakam will miss the start of the season due to his shoulder surgery but when he returns it will be to a team that he can now call his own. And despite the trade rumours -- which he says don't bother him "because I never really heard anything from the Raptors" -- Siakam says he hopes to stick with Toronto long term and lead the team's next championship era.

"These are things that I was going through, and I feel like I’ve always gotten better in my eyes. And I think there’s another level that I can definitely get to," he said. "And for me, I definitely see myself as an All-Star. Potentially, wanting to be a most valuable player in the league one day. But for me, I do think that there’s definitely a lot more to unleash into my dream that’s going to take me to the next level."

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