For now, the details are few and the circumstances not fully understood, but on the same day the Toronto Raptors managed to keep their free quarterback agent, they lost the most viable great man.
The enthusiasm that greeted the news Saturday morning that Fred VanVleet had re-signed with Toronto was tempered when Serge Ibaka signed the Los Angeles Clippers for a two-year $ 19 million deal late Saturday night.
This move – which was unexpected – leaves the Raptors with no other member of their championship core, one of the most colorful players in franchise history, and no real center under contract for now.
“It will be fine,” was a text message from Raptors President Masai Ujiri shortly after the announcement of the deal.
Ujiri and Raptors general manager Bobby Webster deserves more than just doubts at this stage, given that they have had seven play-off appearances in a row to their credit, not to mention the 2019 title. However, it’s hard to imagine that Ibaka leaves something other than a heavy blow to a team hoping to fight for the championship.
At the moment, the combination of Ibaka’s spread shooting and defense skills seems hard to replace.
Given that another current Raptors hub, Marc Gasol, is a free agent gathering his interests elsewhere and the only other big players in the roster are underdog Chris Boucher – who has never played steady minutes in the NBA – and a second-year Dewan Hernandez, long term project at best, the definition of “okay” Ujiri may be relative.
It’s not hard to argue that by the time Ibaka was ready to depart, he was on his way to becoming a Toronto folk hero.
The slick shooting center with its sculpted frame and cheekbones to match has transformed from being distant and reticent early on his tour with a pair of lame play-off appearances in his name to be loose and free and one of the Raptors play-offs most notable characters. His last game in Toronto was one of the best.
He played part of four seasons here after arriving with the Orlando Magic for the 2017 trade deadline, and seemed to improve in subtle and not-too-subtle ways each year – not a small feat for someone with so many professional miles on their tires.
Last year was his eleventh season and he may have been his best – averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game on a 36-minute basis, both the best of his career – and scored 39 percent of three out of nearly five tries per game. .
He was better as a starter – he scored 43.7% of three in 27 games for the role – and was even better in the playoffs, where he scored 57% from the floor, 51.1% from depth and was one of the Raptor. “Some dependable options, like the site where Toronto attacked for a second round stoppage against Boston.
But Ibaka’s transformation as Raptor was so complete that his off-floor presence mourned so many fans as news broke that he was reuniting Fun Guy Kawhi Leonard – “ What it do baby ” run in another ring from Los Angeles Clippers.
There were his How Hungry Are You cooking shows, in which he served his guests some really disturbing dishes, including an unforgettable beef penis pizza to Leonard. Apparently no offense.
It was like you get bored as he illuminated the dark days of quarantine for so many of your own locked up lives – albeit in an apartment much nicer than most. There was also Avec Classe – a YouTube series where the mod Ibaka invited his teammates to make a makeover, which at times brought hilarious results and viral arguments about scarves.
As a Raptor, it seemed as if he had become a person and a player to the fullest.
“… He’s more confident,” Kyle Lowry noted when I interviewed him after he starred in the Ibaka documentary about his incredible journey from the streets of Brazzaville in Congo to the Raptor Championship parade. “You win the championship and these things happen. You can go out to other paths. I think winning the championship has given him a better chance to promote his continent, his people, and now he’s doing it even more.
In this context, a tour of Los Angeles will suit Ibaka – it has a lot to offer on and off the dance floor. If he helps lead Clippers to their first title, his platform will grow.
But the Raptors problem is what he leaves. If not Ibaka or Gasol – and even if Gasol does return, given how much the Spanish veteran has fought in 2019-20 – then who? So what?
Options are available, and the Raptors can offer the full mid-level ($ 9.3 million a year, or potentially $ 39 million over four) if they must.
Whether Aron Baynes, a ruined Suns facility that recently produced a satisfactory three-point roll, could be tempted for a year from its average ($ 9.3 million) – that might be optimistic. Former Raptor Bismack Biyombo would probably be cheaper and fill the gap defensively even if an offensively challenged big man could create one at the other end. Hassan Whiteside can block shots and bounce with the best of them, but he seems to make drama at every stop. It is as big as large bodies.
Perhaps the best Raptors options may be smaller squads, with Pascal Siakam and / or OG Anunoba, which record more minutes as the theoretical center in five sets that are becoming more and more common. There were some promising signs of this in the playoffs.
Raptors – Ujiri, Webster and head coach Nick Nurse – generally get it all.
This is the comforting part. But at the moment losing Ibaka seems to be the opposite okay, and the way he played on the dance floor was only half that.