This season was an amazing one, full of franchise records and high-water marks in a variety of categories both as a team and for its individual players. Whether DeMar DeRozan was capturing the team’s single game scoring record, or the bench was pacing the league for efficacy, there was rarely a game for fans to forget.
However, not everyone had a Fun and Good season, and unfortunately, one of those players was paid $20 million for his efforts. Serge Ibaka, despite having an average year stat-wise, was not the player Masai Ujiri hoped to see when he was signed, and especially so in the post-season.
Ibaka’s 8.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per playoff game were shockingly bad — especially when considering he played the third most minutes of the entire team. With the emergence of the Raptors’ young players such as OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors have the talent to either save salary cap or even acquire a younger, more effective piece for the roster.
We’ll explore the options that Toronto has across the league, and whether or not Serge Ibaka even has a modicum of trade value at all. (And thanks to HQ member McGateway for kicking this idea off with even more trade ideas in a FanPost here.)
Portland trades: Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard
Toronto trades: Serge Ibaka
Portland were handed an early playoff exit at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, with their season ending in a disheartening sweep. It certainly wasn’t what anyone in the organization expected, and they struggled mightily to contain Anthony Davis. While Serge Ibaka is not the same defensive player he once was, he still is not a pushover. It was proved multiple times in their opening round series that Portland needed some sort of defensive presence in the post, and they could get it in the former shot-blocking champion.
Toronto, on the other hand, would be able to add another young defensive-minded combo-forward in Mo Harkless — who can also shoot the three at a decent clip — along with centre Meyers Leonard. In addition to starting 36 games for the Blazers last season, Harkless sported one of the best defensive ratings on the team and is just 24 years old. He is owed a very cap-friendly $30 million over the next three years, and that’s the point of this deal for Toronto — splitting Ibaka’s $20 million albatross contract into two digestible pieces (Leonard also makes $30 million over three years).
Toronto would undoubtedly need to find a team that is either on the cusp of playoff contention, or an already established playoff team in the thick of contention, who needs the very specific skills that Ibaka provides. Luckily, there are 16 of these teams each season. Even more favorable for the Raptors — many teams are looking for a big who can shoot the three, and block a couple shots.
However, few teams are looking to pay this player $20 million a season for two more years. That’s why we look to this next team, whose payroll has yet to be ballooned by bad contracts, to pick up the tab.
Indiana trades: Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young
Toronto trades: Serge Ibaka
Indiana has quite a feather in its cap after it took a bionic LeBron James-led Cavs team to a hard-fought seventh game in their opening round playoff series. In just its first season together, this iteration of the Pacers has a bright future, and thanks to their surprising success, the front office has a little house money to play with in order to try and take a few steps ahead this off-season.
Enter Serge Ibaka — an archetype who would fit right into Nate McMillan’s tough-as-nails defensive style, and onto a roster with enough youth to provide him with the requisite amount of rest in order to stay fresh over the entire season.
What Toronto does, as with the Portland trade, is turn a $20 million contract into two “digestible” deals of roughly $10 million apiece, as well as gain a serviceable veteran forward in Thaddeus Young who could fill his bench minutes with a versatile set of offensive skills.
It might pain Raptors’ fans to hear (it may come as no surprise either) that Ibaka is going to be extremely difficult to turn into young players and/or a draft pick. If anything, we’ll witness another DeMarre Carroll trade, in which the Raptors “pay” to have Ibaka’s contract unloaded.
I, for one, believe Ibaka still has value — and is still seen around the league to have value — so we won’t be paying such a steep price like last summer. However, we won’t be able to bamboozle a team into taking him such as the Raptors did in the Andrea Bargnani trade of 2013.
The one scenario I could find where Toronto would make a profit takes place in the deep south, and even this could end up being a wild stretch of the imagination:
New Orleans trades: Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, 2019 lottery-protected 1st Round pick
Toronto trades: Serge Ibaka, 2019 2nd Round pick
If there is a worse contract in this trade than Ibaka’s, it’s Solomon Hill’s remaining $25 million over two seasons. Ibaka, at the very least, provides a warm body of which to place next to Anthony Davis — much like the position Emeka Okafor filled toward the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. If the Pelicans’ front office doesn’t want to worry about whether DeMarcus Cousins is worth the risk of resigning following his torn Achilles, Ibaka is a real and obtainable option for the next two seasons.
For Toronto, this trade makes the roster situation sticky. Hill and Moore both play small forward (with Moore more of a guard-forward) — a position which OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles and presumably Norman Powell will play next year. It takes the logjam at power forward/centre and moves it to the wing — where one of the team’s most valuable young players resides. Locking up over $30 million into the position of your most recent draft selection is less than ideal — and yet so is playing an individual whom gives you the question mark Ibaka is liable to every night.
Whichever way the Raptors choose to look at the Ibaka situation heading into draft season, it’s tough to find an easy way out. Toronto’s front office — for all the magic they’ve shown over the years — have a hell of a decision to make in this regard. Brainstorming over these few days have given me just a tiny glimpse into the questions the team faces.