Serge Ibaka was one of the most popular and colorful members of the Raptors, but now Toronto must deal with the fact that their most viable big man is leaving, rejoining Kawhi Leonard on the Los Angeles Clippers.
Ibaka agreed to a two-year deal worth $19 million with the Clippers late Saturday night in NBA free agency.
The second year of the deal will be a player option. Ibaka, 31, who played the last three and a half seasons in Toronto, was also being courted by the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers.
The Clippers’ move was called perhaps the “savviest move of the offseason” by Sports Illustrated after the NBA club lost JaMychal Green to the Denver Nuggets and Montrezl Harrell to the Lakers earlier this week
The loss of the 7-foot slick-shooting center will be a heavy one for Toronto in trying to recapture the form that won them the NBA Championship in 2019. Ibaka was a valuable defender who can play center or power forward.
MORE FOR YOU
Said Sportsnet’s Michael Grange: “For the moment, Ibaka’s combination of floor-spreading shooting and defensive ability seems difficult to replace.” He also added Ibaka was “on his way to becoming a folk hero in Toronto.”
Ibaka’s signing came on the same day that Toronto re-signed Fred VanVleet to a four-year, $85 million contract and caught many observers flat-footed, leaving the team without a viable center under contract because starting center Marc Gasol is a free agent who is getting attention from other teams.
The only other bigs on the roster are undersized Chris Boucher and second-year Dewan Hernandez.
Ibaka was one of Toronto’s most colorful athletes, enjoying such roles as celebrity chef and stylish fashionista with his many hats and scarves. In 2019, he was named to Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed List.
Ibaka embraced the city and often was seen posing with fans at his favorite restaurant. He was a powerful presence on social media. He hosted a cooking show, “How Hungry Are You?” with the most memorable episode featuring Leonard as Ibaka’s guest.
Famously, Ibaka dived into the hottest topic of the day, asking Leonard about whether he would return to Toronto or leave in free agency. Ibaka didn’t get a straight answer out of Leonard.
Ibaka popped the question late in the 21-minute segment.
“Bro, are you coming back?”
“What kind of question is that?” the soft-spoken Kawhi asked.
Ibaka didn’t back off.
“It’s a question,” Ibaka replied. “Do you want me to say that in English or Spanish? You can’t understand?”
Without a place to run and hide, Kahi responded: “We’ll see after the season is up. I don’t know.”
As we all know now, Kawhi Leonard turned down the Raptors and signed with the Clippers. Now he and Ibaka will be teammates again.
Ibaka was acquired by Toronto from the Orlando Magic near the trade deadline in 2017 as part of a deal involving forward Terrence Ross and a first-round pick. Ibaka also spent seven seasons with the Oklahoma Thunder.
In his 11th NBA season, Ibaka enjoyed a renaissance year in Toronto in 2019-20, averaging 15.4 points and 8.2 blocks, both career highs.
In the playoffs, Ibaka shot 57% from the floor and 51.1% from three and was one of Toronto’s best offensive players after their offense fizzled out in a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics.
Ibaka was born in the Republic of the Congo. He grew up poor. His parents were both basketball players, which sparked a passion for the game in him. His mother died when he was 7 and his father was a political prisoner when Ibaka was 12.
When the Congo was going through a civil war, Ibaka turned to basketball for an outlet.
Ibaka began to be noticed by NBA scouts after he moved to Spain in 2007 and began playing in the Spanish professional second division league.
In the 2008 NBA draft, Ibaka was selected with the 24th pick by the Seattle Super Sonics (now the Oklahoma Thunder).
Ibaka’s inspirational story is chronicled in the documentary, “Anything Is Possible.”
When Ibaka makes his annual trips back to the Republic of the Congo, he holds basketball clinics for local youths, part of the charitable arm of his Serge Ibaka Foundation.
Source: Forbes – Business