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Watch the Tape: Ibaka asks Kawhi, “Are you coming back? Next year?”

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Serge Ibaka appears to be asking the real questions on an upcoming episode of “How Hungry Are You?”

Watch the Tape will teach you absolutely nothing about basketball, how to watch it better, or how it’s properly played. It WILL take you on a tour of some of the finest, and most random Raptors-related (and sometimes adjacent) material on the net.

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A few weeks ago I issued this tweet with regards to Kawhi Leonard’s impending free agency.

I’ve always thought that trying to read the free agency tea leaves well in advance was a fool’s game, regardless of the free agent in question. Guys have changed their minds so quickly, so many times over the years, for so many myriad and often insignificant or unknown reasons. Jason Kidd was almost a Spur. DeAndre Jordan got locked in a room to stop him joining the Mavericks. Paul George and DeMar DeRozan and dozens of others before them were definitely going to the Lakers.

With a player like Leonard, who’s so closed off from the media, the exercise seemed especially futile. To paraphrase a bunch of stuff we’ve heard: Per multiple sources the Clippers front office is “extremely confident” that they’re going to get Leonard. But, also per multiple sources, Leonard is “the happiest we’ve ever seen him” playing for the Toronto Raptors, and per Leonard himself he “values winning above all else” and has been happy about the way the organization has handled the process of bringing him back from an injury. He bought a house in Toronto. He bought a house in California. People were latching onto the tiniest things, the most canned of quotes, the most inane of circumstances. There was just nothing real feeling to go off with Leonard. It all seemed so silly to me. I was ready to ignore all the noise until Kawhi put pen to paper this summer.

But then, a few days ago, the Supreme Mugwump of Raptors HQ hit me with a couple DMs.

And all of a $udden, if called upon, I’m very confident that I could di$cu$$ the minutiae of Kawhi Leonard’$ impending free agency with great vigor multiple time$ a week. I ju$t get that feeling.

With that being said, let’s take a look at this week’s clip.

0:00-0:02: “Mafuzzy Chef Presents: how hungry are you?” reads the screen, with the show’s title entirely in lowercase for some reason. Serge Ibaka’s aforementioned breakout webseries, where he feeds his teammates bizarre dishes, ranging from lamb brains to pig heads, has been an off-court highlight of the Raptors’ year so far. It’s given us some much needed levity throughout a year full of painful goodbyes. Ibaka is a natural showman, good-looking, charismatic and with a flair for the dramatic. His teammates (and former teammates) held up their end of the bargain when it came to making the show entertaining, with demonstrative guys like Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan showing appropriately hilarious levels of disgust and shock at the dishes Ibaka served them.

However, even with the show’s past successes, this coming episode of “how hungry are you?” (no capitals, apparently) is by far the most anticipated. To find out why, we need to watch another clip.

Throughout the year there was much debate among the Raptors’ fanbase over whether Ibaka would be able to get the notoriously camera-shy Kawhi Leonard to appear on his show. Leonard is cagey when it comes to doing interviews, and his social medias are notoriously inactive, making him the near polar opposite of Ibaka, who is essentially a part-time Instagram model at this point. Nonetheless, after what was no doubt a season of constant pestering, Ibaka was finally able secure his white whale: Leonard would appear on the show. Pay attention to how Ibaka revealed this to us in the above video: teasing us first, before surprising us with a “twist” ending. That will be important later.

0:02-0:06: Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard’s co-star, has long made a point of never recruiting anyone to join the Raptors. Lowry is individualistic and anti-authority by nature, for him what’s most important is that the player’s autonomy is preserved. He wants to ensure players are not guilted or tricked or coerced into signing anywhere, they simply make the choice that they believe is right for them when it comes to their free agency.

This also appears to be the Raptors organizational stance on Kawhi’s impending free agency. They have made a point not to put any pressure or expectations on Leonard, instead just stepping back, and ensuring he’s healthy, comfortable and playing for a winning team. It’s a refreshing strategy in an era of wildly over the top free agent pitches.

However, this strategy appears not to have reached the ears of one Sergeballu Ibaka, who without a stutter or hesitation, asks the question that the Raptors’ fanbase is dying to know the answer to. Is Kawhi coming back? Next year?

0:06-0:11: Silence. Deafening silence. It hangs in the air for 5 seconds, long enough to become very uncomfortable. For Kawhi silence is essentially a trademark, and he’s certainly staying on brand here. His face is impassive, unreadable, devoid of emotion.

At this point I want you to recall that Serge Ibaka is a natural showman. Having shown us this clip, he now has us all by the metaphorical balls. No matter what, we are now all going to watch the full episode of “how hungry are you?” when it releases, desperate to see Kawhi’s unedited response. I also want you to recall Ibaka’s tendency towards the use of “twists”, like the one he deployed in his first preview video for this episode.

Ibaka, is of course taking us for a ride here. By framing his question in the way he did he has created the dramatic environment he loves and thrives in, but he is not genuinely inquiring into Kawhi’s free agency decision here. No, he is asking if Kawhi will be back for…

0:12-0:15: Season 2. Of “how hungry are you?” presented by Serge Ibaka, available at youtube.com/sergeibaka9. He’s asking if Kawhi will guest on his show again next year. Serge has really outdone himself here. This is incredible, incredible advertising.

But will Kawhi be back? He said, in the first teaser video, that his food was better than expected, so maybe? And most importantly, now that I been given hundreds of good reasons to actually care about this stuff, will Kawhi be back on the Raptors next year? What does his appearance on the show mean from that standpoint? Through sheer force of greed, I will force myself not to say that it means absolutely nothing, and will instead say it can only be a positive for the Raptors. Kawhi is bonding with his teammates, bonds that would be limited, if not lost entirely, if he departed in free agency.

Basically what I’m saying is he’s staying. Confirmed, 100%.