There’s nothing like a blockbuster trade. Especially in the NBA where they are becoming increasingly rare in a league that is much more focused on free agency.
Yesterday’s blockbuster saw Serge Ibaka traded from the Orlando Magic to the Toronto Raptors for Terrence Ross and a 1st round pick in what was the biggest trade in the NBA since the last time Serge Ibaka was traded on draft day.
I live in Toronto so believe me yesterday’s trade is a massive deal here.
The media and fans here have lost their minds and declared the Raptors are now going to challenge the Cavs again for Eastern Conference supremacy with Serge Ibaka on board.
I mean that would be nice and all, but not so fast.
I wrote pretty extensively about the Raptors problems just over a month ago. This trade does little to address many of them.
Ibaka isn’t the defensive juggernaut that he once was. Since averaging 3.7 blocks a game in the 2011-12 season, he’s seen that number decline each season. Coming all the day down to just 1.6 a game this season with Orlando.
The Raptors have definitely not downloaded the Iblocka app. It doesn’t exist anymore. That hasn’t been the major part of Serge’s game that we all knew and loved for a long time.
There’s a narrative being sold in the Toronto media about Ibaka being a defensive juggernaut. While that was definitely true at one time. It hasn’t been the case for a while. His defensive win share has fallen from a peak of 4.4 in 2013-14 to a 1.9 this season. Granted he was playing for the Magic as opposed to the Thunder, but the drop had started in OKC as well with his DWS at a 3.0 last year which was after a 2.7 in 2014-15.
His plus/minus in the defensive box has also steadily decreased from a peak of 3.8 in 2011-12 to a 1.0 last season and a 0.6 so far this year.
These numbers are especially concerning when consider that only .02 points separate the Raptors 21st ranked defense from Orlando’s 22nd ranked D. That’s not a good sign for the fans and media types believing that Ibaka is going to be responsible for some kind of defensive resurgence in Toronto. He isn’t.
It’s entirely possible that a major trade like this lights a fire under the team and they start to really buy into Dwane Casey’s defensive system, but we also have to eventually consider that the Raptors simply don’t have the depth or personnel to implement it. Even after this trade.
Although Casey could also catch fire with Ibaka in the same way he did with Tyson Chandler is Dallas. Chandler was experiencing a statistical decline as well near the end of his time in New Orleans. Not as significant as Ibaka’s, mind you, but Casey was able to get a great performance out of Chandler as part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Dallas. Chandler’s play proved to be a key ingredient in their eventual championship run in the playoffs.
I’m not saying that the Raptors will be able to see a similar resurgence in Serge Ibaka, but I think a change of scenery will help him and that Casey is certainly a coach who can get the most out of whatever remains of Ibaka’s defensive abilities.
Serge Ibaka is also only 27 years old. There’s every indication that we haven’t seen his best basketball yet in whatever form his game continues to take.
The area where Ibaka will have a definite and immediate impact is the Raptors offense.
Toronto’s O has been pretty stagnant as of late. The team has fallen into the same old bad habits of ISO-ball and forcing bad shots instead of moving the ball. Whenever the team stops moving the ball, bad things happen. The fact that the Raptors have dropped 11 of their last 15. following last night’s loss to the Bulls, shows how bad things can get.
I know DeRozan has been hurting, and has only played 5 of his last 10, but if this team truly wants to challenge in the East, they have to do better than that.
Second unit scoring has fallen off a cliff and next to teams like the Wizards the Celtics who have blown past them the standings, the Raptors are displaying a significant lack of depth on offense.
Ibaka really can change all that. He’s a big who can stretch the floor and draw opposing defenses out and create space for the rest of the team. He’s been shooting a career best 39% from three point range this season and 49% from the field. Ibaka has tied a career best in averaging 15.1 points per game. That’s a lot of scoring from a position that the Raptors haven’t been able to rely on for production in quite some time.
Having Ibaka on the floor will create a much versatile offensive attack for the Raptors and give the other three major players – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas more room to operate. JV’s production should benefit the most as Ibaka will draw defenders out to guard him, allowing Jonas to get more open looks and more quality scoring opportunities. It’s a major win for the Raptors offensively.
But not the defensive coup that many are making it out to be.
On the Magic’s side, this trade initially looks like disaster. Not necessarily because of what happened yesterday but because they’d already given up Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and 11th overall pick Domantas Sabonis to get Serge Ibaka in the draft day blockbuster that brought him to Orlando in the first place. That’s a huge haul for a guy that is now playing for another team. In the same conference no less.
The return for Ibaka in this trade is low but shows that his stock has fallen pretty far through the course of the season. In fact, when the Raptors were competing with Orlando to land the Congolese big man last season, the asking price was reportedly Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell and the 9th overall pick (which the Raptors used to draft Jakob Poeltl). That’s an outrageous price, but Sam Presti wisely gauged the market and got an almost as good haul from the Magic.
It’s hard to know what Magic GM Rob Hennigan was thinking as the team already had a young, dynamic stretch 4 in Aaron Gordon. Plus a great offensive centre in Nikolai Vucevic and then went and gave Bismack Biyombo a 4 year, $72 million contract while also signing veteran Jeff Green to a one year $15 million deal.
That’s a crowded front court. Too many bigs and not enough minutes. The result was that an unhappy Vucevic started coming off the bench way too often and Aaron Gordon really looked to be out of place as he was moved to SF which is really not the role for a sub-30% three-point shooter in the modern NBA.
At the very least, moving Ibaka helps to alleviate that jam in the middle and allows Gordon to go back to his natural position and everyone else to get more minutes.
That’s addition by subtraction for the Magic.
Additionally, Terrence Ross can be a great fit for this team and find himself in a bigger role in Orlando than he enjoyed in Toronto. Ross is still just 26 years old and has yet to hit his peak. He’s a very athletic and dynamic player who shows a lot of explosiveness and an ability to create his own shots that will serve him well in Orlando.
He also at one point really excelled on the back-end in Toronto. He was a solid defender until, much like the rest of his teammates on the Raptors, he forgot about that aspect of his game. If Magic coach Frank Vogel can get Ross committed on both sides of the floor again, his athleticism will really allow him to add so much to the Magic.
Orlando has him secured for another two years either way on a relatively team friendly $10.5 per season. Given that the Magic couldn’t get Ibaka to give any indication of his intent to return there, it’s a win for them to get a player back under contract in addition to a first round pick in what promises to be a loaded draft pick.
Some people will want to make it seem like the Magic gave up Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, Domantas Sabonis and Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross and a 1st round pick, but that’s intellectually dishonest as you really have to look at each trade from where the Magic were at the time and in that sense, getting something back for a guy who was likely going to walk anyway has to be considered a win.
They gambled on the draft day deal and lost but managed to get something back for it.
Masai Ujiri figures to have a much better inside track on bringing Serge Ibaka back to the Raptors next season given their international connections and Ujiri’s focus on bringing internationally-born NBA players to Toronto. Ibaka’s Congolese roots resonate with the Nigerian born Ujiri who is a major champion of Basketball Without Borders and other important international causes within the game. It’s really a good match and allows each man to continue their charitable efforts off the court as well.
There’s every indication that he will re-sign in Toronto this off-season, which could also complicate things a little bit in Toronto because Kyle Lowry is also headed to free agency and will undoubtedly be looking for max money. If Toronto doesn’t give it to him, somebody will.
Ibaka will be a solid fit for the Raptors. I’ve got no doubt about it.
But where the Toronto media and sports fans need to temper their expectations is in the fact that the flaws the team still has are still very much on display. Serge Ibaka can’t fix every problem with the Raptors. No player can. I still believe the best way forward for the team is to continue to develop their young talent and be in a position to compete beyond the current core.
The trade isn’t enough to put the Raptors over the Cavs in the East. I don’t even think it’s enough to catch Boston or Washington at this point.
But it is a good trade and brings a former all-star who will be a solid fit to a team that was desperately in need of some kind of spark.
From that perspective it’s a win for the Raptors in the short-term as long as they keep sight of their long term future.
For Orlando, it could also be a win, depending on their next moves and how much they decide to tear down and rebuild the team.
For fans, it’s a huge win as it’s the opening salvo in what promises to be a pretty exciting arms race heading into the trade deadline.