Serge protector: Raptors land big piece in Ibaka


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Serge Ibaka

Image: Augustas Didzgalvis/Wikimedia

It was a move that needed to be made, and Raptors GM Masai Ujiri wasn’t going to wait any longer.

Toronto acquired 27-year-old power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic on Tuesday in exchange for Terrence Ross and the lesser of two 2017 first-round picks.

Ibaka has been one of the most dominant defensive forces in the NBA since making his debut in 2009. He led the league in total blocks in four straight seasons from 2010 to 2014. He’s also an excellent floor spacer, and is shooting (and making) the most 3-pointers of his career. Ibaka’s versatile skill set will take a ton of pressure off Patrick Patterson, and gives the Raptors a true starting power forward, something the team hasn’t had since Chris Bosh was in uniform.

Ibaka could not be a better fit for a Raptors’ team that has sputtered towards the All-Star Break. Poor defensive play and spotty offensive play calling has led to some finger pointing in the organization. Calls for a roster or personnel shakeup were coming, and to Ujiri’s credit he acted quickly.

And the best part: it didn’t cost a heck of a lot. Ibaka is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and the struggling Magic evidently decided to cut their losses and get what they could for Ibaka.

Ross’s 5-year career as a Raptor was plagued with inconsistent stretches of play, and Norm Powell is more than capable of taking his spot in the rotation. And even in a loaded draft, a late first-round pick isn’t valuable enough to hold onto, especially not when the Raptors are in win-now mode.

In addition to the immediate on-the-court improvements the Ibaka acquisition will make, it also clearly underlines Ujiri’s desire to put the best possible roster together and cement the team’s status as a top team in the East. His past relationship with Ibaka could be a key factor in resigning the big man long-term; never one to pursue short-term rentals, Ujiri must be fairly confident in his ability to keep Ibaka in Raptor colours.

There were some doubts when the team essentially stood pat last offseason, adding only Jared Sullinger, who has been injured and largely ineffective. However, this move sends the message loud and clear to Raptors fans: settling for the status quo is no longer an option.

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Chris Suppa is a freelance writer and photographer based in Toronto. Follow him at @Suppa55 for somewhat-coherent ramblings about the Blue Jays and on Instagram at @chrissuppaphotography.

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