Ujiri preaches patience after Siakam trade

TORONTO – Patience and flexibility were Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s watchwords a day after trading all-star Pascal Siakam.

Ujiri explained the rationale behind the deal that sent Siakam to the Indiana Pacers for three players and three draft picks, while reassuring fans that Toronto would return to its NBA championship glory of 2019, in an hour-long press conference Thursday.

“I don’t know if I should call this a rebuild or a reset or however we want to put it, but a normal rebuild with other teams takes five or six years,” said Ujiri. “Do we have the patience for that? Do we have the patience for three to five years building our team?

“Someway, somehow we are going to have to have patience. One of the things that I’m telling you, 100 per cent, I’m not going to B.S. anybody on, is that I am patient.”

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The Raptors received guard Bruce Brown, forward Jordan Nwora and three first-round picks — two in 2024 and a conditional pick in 2026 — from the Pacers in return for Siakam. Toronto also got guard Kira Lewis from New Orleans, with a second-round pick going from the Pacers to the Pelicans in the deal.

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Centre Christian Koloko, who has missed all season with respiratory issues, was waived by the Raptors in a corresponding move.

The Siakam deal followed a trade that sent wing OG Anunoby, forward Precious Achiuwa and guard Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks on Dec. 30 for swingman RJ Barrett of Mississauga, Ont., guard Immanuel Quickley and Detroit’s second-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft.

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After entering the season with no selections in the 2024 draft Toronto has acquired three in less than a month. Ujiri said that was the kind of flexibility he was hoping to give Toronto, but it doesn’t necessarily mean drafting four players on June 27.

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“You can consolidate these picks. You don’t have to pick them. You can trade them,” said Ujiri at the OVO Athletic Centre. “There are many things that you can do and that’s our thinking with those picks.

“It’s not necessarily that we are going to go into this draft and we have a lot of picks and we are going to approach it that way. There are many ways to think about this.”

The emergence of forward Scottie Barnes as the focal point of Toronto’s offence also made trading Siakam possible. Ujiri said that it’s time for the 2022 rookie of the year to step up.

“I don’t know if (Barnes) is ready for that responsibility but we have to put him in that position. That’s our jobs,” said Ujiri. “We have to put him in a position to at least grow and start to see dividends of the work he is putting in, to become that kind of player.

“I think we have seen it. Whether if he is getting better at rebounding, whether he’s getting better as a fourth quarter player, whether he’s getting better passing the ball, whether he’s getting better with his three-point shooting, I think we have seen that.”

Siakam is in the last year of a four-year, US$136.9 million deal. He will make $37.8 million this season.

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Before the deal was formally announced by the Raptors and Pacers, head coach Darko Rajakovic and Barnes both praised Siakam for accepting his new reduced role in a contract year.

“He was open to it and he allowed it to happen,” said Barnes. “We know that’s hard and being in Toronto for a while and doing the things that he’s done, it’s hard. It’s hard for players do that.”

Siakam’s departure leaves Montreal’s Chris Boucher as the last remaining member of the 2019 NBA championship team. Ujiri got emotional thinking about closing that chapter of the team’s history, especially when it came to trading fellow Africans Siakam and Anunoby.

“We know what these players meant to our program, incredible human beings, incredible character, incredible players and what they brought to our franchise,” said Ujiri. “Championship players.

“You know my relationship with these guys and how hard this is and I know how hard it has been for them too.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2024.

&copy 2024 The Canadian Press

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