We started this season with a god’s dream.
The Raptors were entering yet another season with one finger in the leaking dam that is their power forward spot. After the departure of Luis Scola, Masai Ujiri signed Jared Sullinger to a bargain bin contract. The hope was he could shape up, grab some rebounds, shoot some jumpers, and do just enough defensively to keep Toronto in games.
That... hasn’t worked out. Sullinger broke his foot in the preseason and has yet to return to NBA shape. The Raptors still don’t know what they have in him (and may never find out), and had to make do with a patchwork rotation of Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogueira, and Jakob Poetl. One proven guy, two rookies, and a natural five. It’s gone about the way you’d expect it to, as the Raptors are 16th in defensive rating and only a shade into the top 20.
So the dream, again, was to trade for a power forward. That want has come up in the last two seasons too; Tyler Hansbrough and Luis Scola presented all the same issues that Sullinger’s absence left the team with. We ruminated about possibilities. Wilson Chandler, Taj Gibson, even flirting with Paul Millsap when it looked like Atlanta was ready to hit the reset button. They went on a Christmas break tear, though, and decided to hold steady with their All-Star forward.
Then, it was Serge Ibaka. He’s quietly been a target of Masai Ujiri’s for some time, but the price coming out of Oklahoma City was comical — Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, and Toronto’s ninth pick in the 2016 draft (used for Jakob Poetl). Ibaka wasn’t going to stick around in Orlando, though, so the price came down: Terrence Ross and a late first round pick.
This home run deal should sufficiently plug the hole at power forward. As others have observed, there’s something to be said for a nine man rotation of mature, NBA-ready players. Anytime the Raptors were running out the pairing of Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas, they were essentially treading water. That this was their starting lineup was worrisome in the long-term.
Which brings us back to the ultimate reasoning behind the Raptors needing a solid starting power forward. Toronto is a team tailor-made for a stretch four that can take pressure off of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The team tension is high now, with Wednesday’s win against Charlotte only slightly covering up the dog poop that’s been the last 20 games. It’s never been more apparent that Lowry and DeRozan need some assistance to get through their tougher games, and need more instinctual reliance on their teammates. Having someone like Ibaka — who’s been to the Finals, who’s seen every level of basketball at just 27 — is enormous for Lowry and DeRozan. It gives them someone they can trust with the ball in high pressure situations.
Was the need for a power forward worth a weekly column? That’ll be answered in how the Ibaka reality compares to our Ibaka dreams. We know how he should fit, and how having a stretch four should help Toronto, but it may take more than just his presence to dig the team out of their current slump.
That’ll all play out in time. But for now... we did it!