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Happy birthday to Raptors' Pascal Siakam, here's to better times for all of us

Mar 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) drives to the basket as Denver Nuggets forward Jerami Grant (9) defends in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-407615
Mar 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) drives to the basket as Denver Nuggets forward Jerami Grant (9) defends in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-407615

You can bet Pascal Siakam didn’t spend his 26th birthday the way he wanted to or has in the past. Siakam, a noted gym rat who likes nothing better than working on his game, would, in normal times, have been getting a few shots up at the Raptors practice facility on the bridge day between games against NBA-leading Milwaukee, Toronto’s opponent in last year’s Eastern Conference final.

Instead, he was cooped inside like the rest of us. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire world and also put a pause on Siakam’s second straight breakout season. The league’s reigning most improved player took several more steps forward in 2019-20, emerging as Toronto’s top scoring option, as well as an ultra-elite defender.

The good news for Raptors fans is that there is no reason to think he is done improving and he’ll do it in Canada. Siakam signed a long-term, max-deal before the season, which should keep him in Toronto for at least four more years.

“(He’s) somebody we’re definitely going to keep for a long time here,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri had said before the deal was even signed. “And we see what the potential of that could be.” In a recent Instagram Live chat, DeMar DeRozan said Siakam had “the blueprint” to become the greatest Raptor ever in time.

A major step in that pursuit — seeing what he might do as that first option in a playoff series or two or three — is currently on pause. We might not see what’s next for Siakam until next Fall.

Hopefully that isn’t the case. And hopefully his 27th birthday comes in much better times for all of us.

NETS BOSS CHECKS IN

Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks did a conference call with the Nets beat writers this week and said the four players who tested positive for COVID-19 were now symptom free. Superstar Kevin Durant was reportedly one of them.

Marks also said he has not yet spoken to any candidates to take over as head coach after the team parted with Kenny Atkinson last month. He did say Durant and Kyrie Irving and other players would be involved in the selection process.

Durant and Irving, who have 16 all-star appearances and three NBA titles between them, were expected to be out for the rest of the season before the league shut down, but if the season resumes in, say, July or later, could they possibly suit up (Durant’s camp had previously hinted that he might play for Team USA at the then-scheduled Tokyo Olympics this summer)?

“I couldn’t give an answer on when they’ll play this season,” Marks said on the call.
“I don’t think it’s fair to those athletes nor the performance team to put a timeline on it. I think everyone is dealing with bigger, far more pressing things.”

Marks, like everyone else, isn’t sure if or when the NBA might return.

“I think they’re (the NBA) turning over every rock they possibly can to play and looking at every different outcome. From a team perspective, all I can say is we have to be preparing for everything, and that goes for keeping the schedule as-is to every single outcome you can possibly have.”

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said in a separate conference call that that organization is “operating and functioning (with) the mentality that we will play,” and is scouring film on potential playoff opponents.

In his call, Marks also touched on the difficulties of prepping for the NBA draft, which usually takes place in late-June, but could also be delayed depending on what happens with the season. The NCAA’s tournament schedule was mostly cancelled, and the usual pre-draft camps might be shelved too.
“I think the biggest challenge for everybody is potentially the lack of exposure we would have to these athletes,” Marks said.
“Usually, there is a drawn-out process of individual workouts, agent workouts, obviously the combine, draft interviews, bringing them into your facility and obviously talking to them, but also getting your performance team and your coaches to get your hands on them and evaluate them. That may not be the case this year, we just don’t know … But this is a case where you trust the work that your scouting department has done over the last year to two years and I have the utmost faith in our group.”

ONCE A RAPTOR

Marks is one of only four natives of New Zealand to make the NBA, and a handful might remember that his first two seasons (13 games) were played with the Raptors from 1998-2000. Marks was a part of one of the most important trades in franchise history, coming over with Charles Oakley from the New York Knicks in exchange for Marcus Camby. While the Raptors gave up years of prime Camby (though he could have left a year later as a free agent because the rules were different for young players back then).

RE-DRAFT: 1997

While we’re going way back, how about a little further than the Oakley trade? We re-drafted 1996 the other day, so now it’s time for the 1997 NBA Draft.
ACTUAL: 1. Spurs – Tim Duncan; 2. Sixers – Keith Van Horn; 3. Celtics — Chauncey Billups; 4. Grizzlies — Antonio Daniels; 5. Nuggets — Tony Battie; 6. Celtics — Ron Mercer; 7. Nets — Tim Thomas; 8. Warriors — Adonal Foyle; 9. Raptors — Tracy McGrady; 10. Bucks — Danny Fortson.
HOW IT SHOULD HAVE GONE : Duncan; McGrady; Billups; Van Horn; Stephen Jackson; Derek Anderson; Anthony Parker; Daniels; Bobby Jackson; Alvin Williams.

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