Raptors in better shape than it seems after Pascal Siakam trade


TORONTO — Success was sweet, fleeting and totally reimagined for the Toronto Raptors, who impressed in a home game Wednesday night with just one player from their 2019 championship.

And no disrespect to lone holdover Chris Boucher, but you could count on two fingers how many minutes he contributed to those playoffs.

In less than five years, Masai Ujiri and free agency dismantled it all.

Piece by piece.

Kawhi Leonard? Off to injury hell and the L.A. sun.

Kyle Lowry? Traded to the Heat.

OG Anunoby? On the Knicks.

Fred VanVleet? Played against Anunoby on Wednesday as a member of the Rockets.

Danny Green? Jeremy Lin? Marc Gasol? Serge Ibaka? Out of the league.

The latest and perhaps biggest maneuver — at least since Leonard bolted — was Pascal Siakam, the lanky All-Star forward, being shipped to the Pacers for Bruce Brown, salary fillers and three first-round picks.

Pascal Siakam was traded to the Pacers on Wednesday. AP

About a year or two too late, Ujiri gave up on the idea of Siakam being the No. 1 option on a contender. Siakam held the leverage with his free agency on the horizon. and the return would’ve been greater, though not by much, if Ujiri recognized the outcome earlier like Danny Ainge in Utah.


The Raptors made a big trade on Wednesday.

We’ll never begrudge a GM for trying to win games, a goal that’s often overlooked by NBA executives because it adds pressure against their job security. And Ujiri being Ujiri, he still got more back than I expected.

Consider this: for two players who are hitting free agency in five months, Ujiri retrieved Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett, Brown, three first-round picks and probably the top second-round pick in the 2024 draft.

He retooled while rebuilding, if that makes sense.

Suddenly the people of Toronto, freezing their faces off in mid-January, are asking themselves the same questions Knicks fans asked the last three years: can we rely on RJ and Quickley? The answer, as Wednesday’s emphatic victory over the Heat demonstrated, is sometimes yes.

But again, only sometimes. We know Barrett’s not consistent and the upside, while an important factor because of his youth (23 years old), is limited by the lack of athleticism. Quickley is roughly in the same category, albeit as a different type of player. They’ll be high-volume scorers with more opportunities in Toronto. They’ll grow. We can confidently say the Knicks-Raptors deal is one of the rare swaps that will work out for both franchises.

The Raptors, like the Knicks, have a solid coach and assets to improve on an already solid team.

We’re less convinced about the Pacers coming out of this rosy, though. The urge to “go for it” is understandable with 64-year-old Rick Carlisle on the sideline and Tyrese Haliburton emerging as a superstar. They’re young and fun.

But Siakam doesn’t push the Pacers over a level they didn’t already occupy. They’re still below the Celtics, Bucks, Sixers and the Heat. We’re not buying that the top of the East was rearranged with Wednesday’s move.

Erik Spoelstra certainly isn’t ready to cede his position.

“Buckle up,” the Heat coach said Wednesday. “We’re not hiding from anybody. We’re looking forward to the second half of the season.”

RJ Barrett went to the Raptors from the Knicks. Getty Images
Darko Rajakovic, head coach of the Toronto Raptors, talks with Scottie Barnes #4, Immanuel Quickley #5, and RJ Barrett #9 during the second half of their NBA game against the Boston Celtics. Getty Images

This also puts the Pacers on the clock with Siakam’s free agency, which will go one of three ways: 1) the Pacers play well and he re-signs at a deserved figure; 2) Siakam struggles but the Pacers feel compelled to give him max money because they’re in a bind after giving up three first-rounders or; 3) Siakam bolts to a more desirable location.

We don’t like those odds. The legend of Jimmy Chitwood isn’t bringing NBA players to Indiana. They also weren’t flocking to Toronto but Ujiri still produced a championship in 2019.

Don’t bet against Ujiri. The Raptors lost everybody from a recent championship and are better than you think.

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