Raptors News

Raptors reportedly interested in Ibaka (and some All-Star Weekend notes)

Just a few notes to drop that didn’t warrant their own post. Until the first one camp up. I’d say temper your reactions, but let’s be realistic: This is fun and you won’t anyway, so go nuts.

Raptors interested in Ibaka, or someone like Ibaka

It is an open secret that the Toronto Raptors are interested in landing an upgrade at the power forward position. It was actually a condition of their expansion agreement when they entered the league that they would always be in need of an upgrade at the power forward position, and they were quietly punished when Chris Bosh ended up being good. For the time since, the Raptors have had some really solid contributors at the four but have always had their eye on a potential upgrade. Whether it be Paul Millsap (reportedly off the market but probably not really) or DeMarcus Cousins (almost definitely off the market) or even Markieff Morris a year ago, if you are 6-foot-9 and have at least one basketball skill, Masai Ujiri or Jeff Weltman have likely made a call on you.

This past summer, they made a call on Serge Ibaka, only to find the Oklahoma City Thunder’s asking price to be ridiculous. Rather than give up Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Patrick Patterson, and the No. 9 pick, the Raptors passed and watched the Orlando Magic send out Victor Oladipo, the No. 11 pick, and more for a year of Ibaka. Fast-forward half a season, and the Ibaka deal has worked out about as poorly as expected for the Magic (given that they also lavished Bismack Biyombo with a major contract to crowd a frontcourt with ill-fitting pieces), and there’s speculation that Ibaka could be had in a trade.

Logically, since the Raptors were interested in Ibaka before, still have a need at his position, and the asking price should theoretically be lower, the Raptors should be interested now. And they are, according to Marc Spears of The Undefeated. Or they might be, depending on how you interpret his wording:

Toronto has had its eye on landing a power forward like Orlando’s Serge Ibaka before the trade deadline, a source said.

I mean, is that the most vague report yet this trade season, or what? Not only is it obvious – the Raptors want a power forward? Quelle surprise. – but the wording makes it unclear if the Raptors are actually interested in Ibaka himself, or just a power forward upgrade and Ibaka makes sense. This isn’t meant as a dig at Spears, who is generally tied-in and reliable, but given the Raptors’ shroud of secrecy and the vagueness of the report, it’s unlikely this is coming from Toronto’s side.

That’s not to say it’s not true. The Raptors should and likely do have interest in Ibaka, who would be a solid fit at both ends of the floor as either a power forward or a small-ball center. He can space the floor enough to play alongside Jonas Valanciunas without issue, and he would immediately become the team’s best rim-protector. There’s a lot to like in the 27-year-old’s game, even if he’s yet to fully regain the form he showed in his best years with the Thunder. He’d be a substantial upgrade, and the Raptors would be acquiring his Bird rights with a strong chance of re-signing him this offseason, given the cap advantages of having those rights, the presence of Ujiri, and Toronto’s upward swing as a franchise.

(It is unlikely, however, that the team will be able to afford re-upping Kyle Lowry, Patterson, and Ibaka, and even keeping two would likely necessitate the shedding of salary elsewhere, lest the luxury tax bill get too ridiculous for a team that would still only be a threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, not a favorite to jump them.)

Ibaka also comes with the luxury of a low salary this season, which makes constructing a trade easier. Since he’s earning just $12.25 million, the Raptors would only need to send out $8.1 million in salary to make a deal work. That means Terrence Ross would get it done, from a salary standpoint, or Cory Joseph and any of the youngsters not named Fred VanVleet. That makes coming up with trades a lot easier than it has been for some names in the past, though it doesn’t make an actual deal easier – what, specifically, the Magic would be after is unclear. Ross and Joseph both make sense for the Magic given their current roster construction, but the medium-term plan there is unclear, which makes it hard to nail down what they may be looking for. There’s also the fact that general manager Rob Hennigan could fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy, looking to recoup far too much in a deal in order to ‘save face’ after giving up so much to get Ibaka, or simply because he now values Ibaka based on the payment price. It’s easy to say the Magic should deal him for a package, it’s another entirely to convince the Magic of that.

Still, the two sides would seem to be reasonable trade partners. The Magic have a few mid-level salaries for useful players to kick in if the deal needs to get larger (C.J. Watson, Jodie Meeks, or The Swag God Mario Hezonja, if they’ve given up on him), and the Raptors are flush with young players on rookie deals and draft picks. A late first maybe isn’t going to mean the world, but if the market for Ibaka is somewhat cool, a rotation player, a prospect, and a pick might be the best the Magic can hope for. Toronto could probably even justify playing hardball and offering less if the deal is just for Ibaka straight up.

What’s the most you’d be willing to give up for Ibaka? Does he move the needle enough to surrender three assets, as outlined? He’d certainly re-establish the Raptors as Cleveland’s likeliest opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, a worthwhile goal, but he wouldn’t put them on the level of the Cavs. I haven’t quite decided the maximum I’d be willing to surrender for Ibaka (I think one of Joseph/Ross, one of Poeltl/Siakam, and one of the 2017 firsts is probably “worth it” in a vacuum, but I’d be hoping to negotiate such that only two of the three going out), but the Raptors should be aggressive in pursuing such a piece, regardless. Your thoughts?

More Raptors All-Star representation

Kyle Lowry will be one of Jemele Hill’s assistant coaches during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on the Friday of All-Star Weekend. Lowry, Hill, and Fat Joe will be tasked with helping keep a team that includes reigning MVP Win Butler, Bucks owner Mark Lasry, Sweet Sweet Peter Rosenberg, and basketball legends Oscah Schmidt and White Chocolate Jason Williams ahead of a Mark Cuban- and Baron Davis-led West team coached by Michael Smith, Rosci Diaz, and Draymond Green. This should be a lot of fun.

The next day, reigning D-League Slam Dunk Champion John Jordan of Raptors 905 will defend his crown in a loaded field that should make for one heck of a dunk contest. Brady Heslip is not in the 3-Point Contest, and considering he’s leading the league in makes and hitting at a 42.5-percent clip, he must have turned an offer down.

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