Serge Ibaka did art in Toronto, and now he will hope to do art in Los Angeles.
While things generally leaned towards Fred VanVleet, Ibaka seemed to be a toss-up. It was anyone’s guess what the Congolese centre was going to do, and so it doesn’t come as a total surprise that he’s left. What may come as a surprise, though, is that he’s joined the Clippers on a two-year, $19 million deal per reports.
The 31-year-old met with several contenders over the weekend—including the Brooklyn Nets where he could have possibly joined former teammate Kevin Durant—and finally settled on playing alongside another former teammate in Kawhi Leonard late Saturday night.
Ibaka is coming off what some considered a career year with the Raptors, averaging 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 38.5 per cent from beyond the arc in 27 minutes per game. With Marc Gasol in and out of the lineup, Ibaka proved a stabilizing force at centre and illustrated the luxury Toronto have had in bringing him off the bench behind Gasol.
Consider this: Ibaka hadn’t come off the bench since the 2010-11 season, his second year in the league. He had made over 500 starts in between, yet accepted a role going into the 2018-19 season so he could move to the centre position full-time and help the team. It has clearly reaped dividends for his career and so there is clearly mutual benefit, but for a veteran to take on that role with aplomb deserves praise.
He became a leader in the Raptors locker room and provided a pivotal moment in the team’s championship run when he delivered a riveting speech after falling into an 0-2 deficit against Milwaukee in the Conference Finals. He explained to his teammates the focus and calm his former team the Thunder played with to win four straight games after trailing 0-2 to a San Antonio team that had Leonard and Danny Green at the time, and then the Raptors went and did it themselves.
Ibaka has also been a mentor to younger players including rising star Anunoby and provided some of the most entertaining off-court moments through his YouTube shows ‘How Hungry Are You?’ and ‘Avec Classe.’
All of that has amounted to him becoming a fan favourite in Toronto and he will certainly be missed both on and off the court. For now, the Raptors will have to turn their focus to unrestricted free agent Marc Gasol and restricted free agent Chris Boucher.