It finally happened. The Raptors have reportedly pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka. If you’re speechless right now, or feel a sudden surge of adrenline, allow me to say this: same.
Here’s the Woj Bomb to end all Woj Bombs for Toronto:
Orlando is finalizing a trade to send Serge Ibaka to Toronto, league sources tell @TheVertical.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 14, 2017
Orlando has agreed to trade Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick, league sources tell @TheVertical.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 14, 2017
Toronto will send lower of its two first-round picks to Orlando in 2017, league sources tell @TheVertical. Toronto has the Clippers' pick.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 14, 2017
Sources: Toronto is trading for Ibaka with intention of trying to re-sign him in free agency this summer. Masai Ujiri has long coveted him.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 14, 2017
To re-iterate: Serge Ibaka is coming to Toronto for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round pick (the lower of the two the Raptors own in the upcoming draft).
What does this mean for the Toronto Raptors? The answers here are obvious, but let’s run through them one by one.
First, the Raptors get a real live starting power forward. Ibaka, at 27 and listed at 6’10’’, gives the Raptors everything they need at the position. He can rebound, block shots, defend multiple positions and even hit threes. For the year, on a mismatched as hell Magic team, he was averaging 30.5 minutes per game with 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and 1.1 assists, while shooting 49 percent from the field and 38 percent from three. He’s an extremely steady player.
Second, this solidifies the role of Patrick Patterson. He can now return to the bench to focus on playing with the unit there — Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell (in place of Ross, more on that in a bit) and Lucas Nogueira. It seems crazy to say this but the Raptors now have two power forwards who can make plays, defend and shoot the basketball. And if teams go small, they can run both Patterson and Ibaka out there to snuff out all kinds of offense on the perimeter, in the pick-and-roll, and at the rim. What a time to be alive.
Third, Ibaka plus Jonas Valanciunas is the starting pairing this Raptors team always wanted. No disrespect to Jared Sullinger (poor Sully), but JV is the perfect centre to pair with a rangy, stretch PF. Now that the Raptors have not one but two, it makes JV’s life easier, and it sorts out the frontcourt rotation. Pascal Siakam, who has shown bursts of talent, is not ready for the minutes load, Nogueira is best as a centre, and Sully may never get back to where he needs to be to help the Raptors in the post-season. The jury continues to be out on DeMarre Carroll at the 4, as well. In one fell swoop, Ibaka’s presence sorts all of this out. What a relief.
Fourth, I’m not done with solving Raptors rotation questions. Trading Ross opens up a path to minutes for, guess who, Norman Powell! As pretty much every Raptors fan has been clamouring for, Powell is a lock for more minutes in the Lowry plus bench lineups. He’s shown himself to be a relentless rim attacker, stout defender and decent enough shooter. Powell doesn’t quite have the trigger finger Ross has, but he plays with consistent force. With Ross gone, this means no more absurd “closer” role, no more sporadic and erratic lineup decisions, and we can finally see what Powell with a consistent role is ready to do. And, oh yeah, good luck coming at a defensive lineup of Powell-Patterson-Ibaka.
Fifth, it’s worth noting here that Ibaka is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. There’s obviously no way of knowing what he’s thinking about right now, but it’s also hard not to see the connection between Masai Ujiri and Ibaka. They’ve known each other for some time, Ujiri has long coveted him as a player, and Ibaka and Lowry share the same agent, Andy Miller. My point here is that the Raptors may have the inside track to re-sign him, assuming they can figure out how to get all these salaries to work under the cap. (We’ll have Daniel Hackett around here shortly to work that out.)
Sixth, it was announced today that Kevin Love will undergo knee surgery and miss six weeks of action. Who cares right? The Raptors definitely need to figure out of they can beat normal NBA teams before worrying about the defending champion Cavaliers. But this trade sends a message. The Raptors (like two years ago) are reeling and it’s clear that something needed to change to re-ignite the productivity of their lineups. The power forward spot has been a hole all year and the lack of consistent production behind Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has been glaring. Ibaka is the kind of player who can fill that third man spot in the pecking order. He’s done it to great effect in Oklahoma City and there is no reason to assume he can’t do it again in a similar hopeful situation like Toronto. (My bet is he is happy just to get out of the sinkhole that is the Orlando Magic.)
Finally, does this right the ship, as it were, in Toronto? Can the Raptors finally start playing like they were back in October and November? Will they put the fear back into the likes of Boston or Washington or even, gulp, Chicago? Can they even make some sort of run at LeBron?
My immediate feeling is, as you may have already guessed, a resounding yes.
Now... let’s watch.