Some rough news to temper what had been a wonderful day, in terms of Raptors fandom, with news of Fred VanVleet’s re-signing in Toronto. Shams Charania broke the news late Saturday night that Ibaka decided to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. The deal was later reported to be a two-year deal worth $19M, with the second year a player option. It is possible that the Raptors offered a similar amount of money in a one-year deal, but Ibaka decided the return to play with Kawhi Leonard was too attractive.
The news is difficult for the Raptors. Though it was unlikely that the Raptors could afford to employ Ibaka for more than one more year, he would have been an important rotation player next season. Instead, the Raptors still hold bird rights for Marc Gasol, so if both sides are amenable, the Raptors could go over the salary cap in re-signing Gasol. Current reports are that the Raptors are interested in such a deal. Perhaps the one-year balloon payment rumoured to be offered to Ibaka will accepted by Gasol. But with noise early after the season ended that Gasol wanted to return to Barcelona, and noise now that both Los Angeles teams are after Gasol’s services, it can’t be assumed that he will return to Toronto.
If that’s the case, Toronto would likely have to re-sign Chris Boucher and fill plenty of center minutes with a combination of Boucher, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam. They will also try to lure a free agent — Harry Giles anyone? — to Toronto using the full non-tax player MLE, valued at approximately $9M. There are plenty of options remaining, including Giles, Aron Baynes, and others.
Toronto will surely have a starting center on the roster next year. We know now that it won’t be Ibaka. But he didn’t seem to be in the team’s long-term plans regardless. This does hurt Toronto in the short term, and it’s perhaps even more painful solely because of Ibaka’s cultural value to the team. For every triple and mid-range jumper he drilled, so too did he record an iconic moment off the court. From beef penis pizza to scarves, Ibaka will be missed.