As the NBA Finals continue, the Clippers are among 28 NBA teams with their eyes set on free agency, and Serge Ibaka should get a lot of attention once the off-season begins.

Basic Information

Height: 7′
Weight:
235 lbs
Position:
Center/Power Forward
Age:
31 (turned 31 in September)
Years in NBA:
11

Key stats: Last year, made 55 appearances and 27 starts for the Toronto Raptors, averaging 27 minutes per game and 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 38.5% from three on 3.3 attempts per game.
Contract status: Ibaka is an unrestricted free agent coming off of making $23.3 million in the last year of a 3-year, $64M deal with Toronto. The Raptors have his bird rights and can exceed the cap to make him an offer.

Strengths

Despite making his name in the NBA as a lob-finishing, shot-blocking hyper-athletic power forward, Serge Ibaka has evolved as his career has gone on–his greatest strength is now his three-point shooting and all-around offensive game.

If the Clippers, as expected, move on from Montrezl Harrell this off-season and are looking for a new backup center, one of the biggest questions will be where the team will replace Harrell’s offensive production: 21.7 shot attempts and 31.7 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. While his playoff shortcomings outweighed his regular season volume scoring, those 82-game contributions are still important–and Ibaka is the best candidate on the market to potentially replace that output, posting per-100 possession numbers of 27.1 points on 21.5 attempts (most of the discrepancy in output came from Harrell getting to the foul line more often).

In terms of how they get their points, however, Ibaka and Harrell are much different players. Where Harrell works almost exclusively at the rim, Ibaka has a more diverse offensive game, with his shots mostly concentrated in the paint and three-point line but also coming from the mid-range. In the regular season, Ibaka took 27% of his shot attempts from three, but that number increased in the playoffs to 41%. A lot of his work came in pick-and-pop situations, and over 90% of his regular-season field goal attempts came following either 0 or 1 dribble–meaning he was finishing plays not creating. As a passer, he doesn’t bring much.

Defensively, Ibaka played on one of the NBA’s most cohesive squads, so it’s a bit harder to project where he’d fall on that end on another team. A 3-time All-Defensive 1st team player (from 2012-2014), he has the veteran pedigree and awareness to play within a system and do his job. Nobody should be expecting the Ibaka they remember from seven years ago, but he’ll be a solid option as a second defensive 7-footer, something the Clippers didn’t have last season.

Weaknesses

Funnily enough, considering his history as one of the league’s most prolific shot-blockers, Ibaka’s weaknesses are what were once his signature strengths: dunks and blocks. Last year, he had less than one of each per game–far fewer than during his peak years and even fewer than Montrezl Harrell last season. While those are largely glamour stats, it’s worth noting that as Ibaka’s defensive game has evolved from highlight blocks to more solid positioning-based play, he’s evolved from playing PF early in his career to almost exclusively C.

Offensively, he isn’t going to provide the same kind of speed and athleticism as Harrell when rolling to the rim and finishing in traffic. He doesn’t get to the foul line as often as Trez, and Ibaka can be prone to taking lower-efficiency mid-range jumpers when driving lanes are unavailable to him. It’s also worth wondering how many of his looks he’d still get on a Clippers team that doesn’t move the ball as well offensively as the Raptors: over the last two seasons, 79% of Ibaka’s two-point field goals have been assisted, as have 99% of his three-pointers.

Fit on Clippers

Overall, Ibaka would be an exceptional fit on the Clippers, and he’s their best-case scenario as a backup big man this off-season. He’d split time with starter Ivica Zubac, allowing the young big man to play significantly more than last season without thrusting too much responsibility into the lap of a still-developing player. Importantly, the two would also be able to split time in the playoffs against matchups like Nikola Jokic, and Ibaka would give the Clippers a more versatile option against small-ball looks without needing to fully commit to playing a small lineup of their own.

The Clippers would miss having a real rim-runner, which has been a fixture of the team’s offense through the DeAndre Jordan and Montrezl Harrell years, but Ibaka would provide them with the ability to stay big and space the floor from the center position, opening up driving lanes for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. For a team that doesn’t have true pick-and-roll ball-handlers, it might not be so bad to go away from a guy like Harrell, who is stylistically at his best when rolling to the rim.

Ibaka’s pick-and-pop style could also at times be a bit redundant with the Clippers’ power forwards. Marcus Morris, JaMychal Green, and Patrick Patterson are all headed into free agency this summer, but the team would like to retain them (particularly Morris and Green). But minimal returns from last season are promising: the Clippers had a 121.8 offensive rating with both Morris and Green on the floor, so fitting Ibaka into those lineups should work well. At the end of the day, putting 5 efficient three-point shooters on the floor is never a bad thing for your offense, especially with players like Morris and Ibaka who have a lot of versatility heading to the rim as well. Playing shooters in the front court could also indirectly help the Clippers with their point guard issue: it would be easier for the team to add a downhill driver at guard who isn’t a great shooter if the second unit is stocked with Landry Shamet, Green, and Ibaka.

Offseason Outlook

The Clippers will likely be unable to offer Ibaka more than the taxpayer mid-level exception, starting at 6.1M and running for up to 3 years. That’s far, far less than Serge’s market value will be this summer after a stellar season in Toronto, and the Raptors have his full bird rights to potentially offer him a bloated one-year deal to return. After having a resurgence at 31 years old, and with his colleague Marc Gasol pushing 36 (in January) and slowing down, it seems like the Raptors would want to prioritize keeping Ibaka around.

But veterans have chosen situation over money before, and Ibaka has made a lot of money in his career–over $120 million. The Clippers, and his good friend Kawhi Leonard, can paint an attractive picture of what Serge’s final 3-4 years of his career could look like living in Los Angeles and playing on contending teams. While the Raptors deserve remarkable credit for being incredibly good in 2020 after Leonard’s departure, their path back to title contention involved staying competitive with veterans like Ibaka on one-year deals, then casting him aside next summer to pursue bigger free agents. If Toronto has money and familiarity on their side, the Clippers’ main hope would be making a longer commitment that Ibaka is part of their plans beyond next season.

Overall, he’s overwhelmingly likely to return to the Raptors on a one-year deal. The money will be very good, and the situation is very good too. But if the Clippers are making a list of veteran big men to pursue in free agency, Ibaka should be the first call when the window opens–perhaps with some pre-free agency recruitment from his friend Kawhi to take Serge’s temperature. Landing him would be a huge step forward for this squad, so it’s worth making as strong of an attempt as possible before moving on to more realistic options.

One last wrinkle could be a sign-and-trade with Montrezl Harrell, who the Raptors are rumored to have interest in. As I discussed with Raptors writer Sean Woodley, Harrell doesn’t really make sense for the Raptors and helping Ibaka leave to bring Trez in would be just as much of a downgrade for a normally-savvy Toronto front office as it would be an upgrade for the Clippers. But even if Toronto was willing, such a deal would be complicated financially: Harrell’s outgoing salary number for trade math is limited by the base year compensation rule, making a workable deal hard to find. One bonus, though, would be that this pathway would allow the Clippers to pay Ibaka more than $6.1M while potentially saving that taxpayer mid-level exception for another player (the exception would be unused but the team would be hard-capped and might not have space to use it). Again, though, it feels unlikely that the Raptors would go along with helping the Clippers pry Serge away, especially if bad blood remains from LAC’s recruitment of Kawhi Leonard last season.

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Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

42 Comments

  • Avatar Goons 1 says:

    How much $ would Trez’ annual salary have to be in order to bring back a 10-15 mil contract in a sign & trade, which is what I think Ibaka is going to get?

    Article was spot on, however, I don’t think replacing Trez’ point production would be an issue.. For starters, the defense would/should be better without him.. Now let’s assume the same guys come back, minus trez, kinda hard to speculate on who may sign..

    That said, Kawhi & PG only avg 32 & 29 min a game during the season & avg 27 & 21.. I’d like to think they’d be in the 32-35 min range next year which would up their scoring by 5-8 pts a game (combined).. Next you have more opportunities for Green, Morris & Shams.. Each have proven to produce offensively, especially Morris.. The only issue I see is on Kawhis off days.. That’s when I think his scoring would be missed the most, but hopefully with the guys having defined roles, it’d be easier for everyone to step up into an even bigger role.. + that doesn’t include the additions from the pg & center positions..

    In all, I’m not worried about replacing his production because him being gone, is already an upgrade defensively..

    So if Ibaka isn’t available, Favors, Baynes & Olynyk would be the next options but I don’t see Olynyk being affordable if he keeps up his play

    • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

      BYC means his outgoing trade # would be the greater of 6M or 50% of his new contract. But his incoming trade # is the value of his new contract.

      So if he signed for like 12M with Toronto, he’d only count as 6M going out for us–125% of that plus $100k is 7.6M. So Serge’s new contract is 7.6M… except if Toronto is only sending out 7.6M, they can’t afford to take back 12M.

      If the Raptors give Trez 16M, his outgoing # is 8M, and we can give Ibaka 10M… but again, that 10M outgoing for Toronto isn’t enough for them to bring the 16M in. And it requires Toronto wanting to give Trez 16M, when I am highly skeptical that they really want him at all.

      • Avatar Goons 1 says:

        Gotcha, so in other words, there would have to be a 3rd team involved, assuming Toronto doesn’t have the cap space to make up the difference..

        -just checked & Toronto has 27 mil cap space, so don’t know if that would change things.. Again that’s assuming they even want him..

        Regardless, at least i understand how trez’ sign & trade would work so thanks

        • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

          The best way to do it would be something like Trez @ 12M + Noah for Ibaka. Noah is on a min deal and doesn’t count as incoming salary for Toronto, but allows them to keep Ibaka’s salary higher to bring Trez back in.

          Toronto doesn’t really have 27M in cap space, it’s a phony number. They have a bunch of fringe deals, small qualifying offers, etc that mean in reality they will be about 19M under the cap before re-signing Gasol, Ibaka, or FVV. They’d have to renounce all 3 of those guys to get to actual space. I think it is very unlikely that they actually end up using cap room for any purpose this summer, they are going to operate as an above-the-cap team.

          • Avatar Goons 1 says:

            Yeah just going off the trade machine app which allows you to make every trade possible lol

          • Avatar Goons 1 says:

            Is there a way to submit photos?

  • Avatar jbugs says:

    Ibaka would be really nice if we were just letting Trez go in return. However, I disagree that Ibaka is the ideal center for this team. I actually don’t think he is the right fit at all. Assuming the core of the clippers doesn’t change, I think we need a big man who could pass the ball, play solid team defense and rebound. From the description in this article, Ibaka sounds a less ball dominant, and potentially more efficient Marcus Morris (or as we clipper fans would say, “JMG”). What I think would really make this team better is someone who could facilitate from the top of the key or from down low. We need someone to make sure the ball is getting to the right place, whether it’s to shamet or JMG for an outside 3, PnR with Leonard (or PG if he could learn to play with someone else).

    I don’t know how to look this up, but I feel like our highest percentage plays after a Leonard midrange shot was the Leonard and Zu game. I would love to have a big guy who could build on that and specialize on getting everybody involved (lord knows nobody else on this team is going to take on that role). The beauty of the cardiac clippers (18-19) was the ball movement. Guys like Gallo and SGA swung the ball well and maximized Sham, Tobias and Beverley. If 27 year old Marc Gasol was around today, I’d even trade PG for him. In the end of the day, if we aren’t getting a defensive center who could pass and rebound, I’m fine with sticking with what we have. I wish we got more of a line up that had Zu, JMG, Leonard, PG and Bev. I feel like if we weren’t going to get ball movement, that would have been the next best thing. The only way to really improve on that line up is to get someone who would make everybody better.

    • Avatar jbugs says:

      I’d much rather go after Gallinari that Ibaka. I understand they are differernt players, but I feel like Gallo is better at everything including, defense, ball movement, and boxing out. He’s already expressed willing to take a discount for a shot at winning. I would kill to have him back on this team: Zu, Gallo, PG, Leonard, and Sham/Bev would be an insane line up.

      • Avatar dhpat says:

        Didn’t Gallo express that he wouldn’t mind coming back to LAC?
        What about Marc Gasol, is he really going to FC Barcelona?

        • Avatar jbugs says:

          Marc Gasol is 35. I don’t know how helpful he would be next year.

      • Avatar mlslaw1 says:

        Gallo definitely intriguing. Not wary of his durability JBugs? I know recently he’s held up well but this board really lambasted him plenty during that “glassinari” period of time. As for shooting, I’d take him in a 3 pt contest over Morris, JMG, Patterson, Lou, PatBev and KL.

        • Avatar jbugs says:

          I remember him being pretty durable in that last season with us. As a 3rd options, he’d be the best in the league.

          In regards to 3 pt contest, I’d take him over PG and Leonard too.

      • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

        Where does Gallo fit? Unless you’re sign-and-trading Morris out, all you’re doing is adding another stretch PF to a team that needs guard and center help. The Clippers have extremely limited resources, they can’t afford to be spending them on positions of strength.

        This was the knock on the Marcus Morris trade–not that Morris is a bad player, but that the Clippers needed help at guard and center more than they needed an upgrade at stretch 4. In the playoffs, the PG and C positions were the problem and reliable stretch 4 depth went underused in Green and unused in Patterson. The Clippers might only be able to add one serious contributor this summer, why would you add him at a position of strength where we already have depth?

        • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

          Also, Gallo has been awful in the playoffs each of the last 2 years. His game falls apart under that pressure.

          • Avatar jbugs says:

            Very true. The sample size is small enough that I’d still want him on the team. Even if his shot isn’t falling, I’d still want him there for D, rebounding and facilitating.

        • Avatar jbugs says:

          I think Gallo would make a better stretch 5 than Ibaka. In the event we found a different back up center we liked, Gallo would make Mook and Trez expendable to make that happen. He’s much better than both of those guys and would solve a bunch of the team’s issues at the same time.

          I don’t think limiting the conversation to what centers are available for the tools we have is the smartest way of fixing this team. Ultimately, we need to solve the team’s core issues regardless of positioning before finding the guys at the positions we have little depth.

          Goran Dragic and Serge Ibaka in theory fill positions where we are weaker, but they are expensive and don’t solve the team’s actual issues. If we have 1 or 2 guys who could move the ball, rebound and play D along side PG, Leonard, Trez and Bev, everybody else is expendable, and our need for a PG becomes less pressing. Gallo fits exactly that profile and has expressed an interest to play for a contender and, possible, a willingness to return to LAC.

  • Darius Miles Forever Darius Miles Forever says:

    ★ Clippers to interview Darvin Ham ★

    Malika Andrews: Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham is set to interview for the Clippers head coaching job this week, sources told ESPN. Ham, who is also a finalist for the Pacers’ head coaching spot, will meet in person with the Indiana brass over the next few days.

    —————

    LMAO

    • Darius Miles Forever Darius Miles Forever says:

      Woj: Golden State assistant Mike Brown had a head coaching interview with Clippers in recent days, sources tell ESPN. Clippers are meeting with multiple candidates. Assistant Ty Lue is still in a strong position there, per sources.

      • Avatar Based Freestyle says:

        And just like that, I’ve lost any confidence I had in the Clippers not screwing this up. I haven’t seen a single decent candidate mentioned yet.