Ujiri proud of Siakam's perseverance: 'That's who you want to go to war with'
Pascal Siakam's struggles coming into the 2021-22 season - namely, his diminished production in the wake of the pandemic's outbreak and the torn labrum in his left shoulder that required surgery last summer - were well noted.
But after witnessing the way the sixth-year Toronto Raptors forward battled back in a resurgent 2021-22, team president Masai Ujiri is confident that the 28-year-old is someone he wants on his side when the going gets tough.
"Watching his press conference the other day, I want that guy on my team. I want that kind of fighter on my team," Ujiri said at his season-ending media availability on Tuesday, per the Toronto Star's Libaan Osman. "If you can come back from it in life - you saw it; you saw what people called him. Racist (comments). All the things that were said about that guy because of basketball. Because of sports. Yeah, he gets paid, but he's also a human being, right?
"And he stood it, withstood it, went, when he was coming back, got hit again, got injured. Those things crack people, right? And he grew out of it.
"And to see him on that stage, you know, fight and fight and fight? That's who you want to go to war with, to battle with. I'm proud of him. Incredibly proud of Pascal."
Siakam's two-season stretch beginning in 2018 suggested a player on course for NBA stardom. In 2018-19, he was voted the league's Most Improved Player after ranking second on the team in scoring en route to the Raptors' maiden championship.
A year later, he averaged 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists a night, earning his first All-Star nod and a spot on the All-NBA second team while leading a 53-win Raptors team in scoring.
However, Siakam's production fell sharply in the Disney World bubble after the 2019-20 season had been suspended from mid-March through late July due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across 11 playoff games, the Cameroonian's scoring average dropped to 17 points per game on 39.6% shooting, including 18.9% on nearly five 3-point attempts a night. He scored just 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting in a season-ending Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Now, Siakam is once again credibly in the running for an All-NBA selection. After missing the first 10 games of the season while recovering from his shoulder surgery, Siakam averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in an NBA-leading 37.9 minutes per game. And come playoff time, he helped lead an injury-hampered Raptors team to a spirited 4-2 first-round defeat after the team initially fell down 3-0 to the Philadelphia 76ers.
"What that guy went through - we all go through it and it's not advertised; his is public because he's a public figure," Ujiri said. "I'm so proud of him."