LA Clippers center Serge Ibaka will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing back surgery Thursday, the team announced. Ibaka missed 30 games with lower back tightness that began in mid-March before making his return to the lineup for the Clippers’ final two games of the season–but after just 2 games and 18 total minutes in the team’s first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Ibaka exited the lineup again as his back pain was too severe to play through.
A much-anticipated off-season asquisition, Ibaka won the 2019 NBA Championship with Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard in Toronto and played 41 games for LA this season, averaging 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. While his production marked a notable decline from the year prior–particularly his three-point shooting, which dipped from 39% with Toronto in 2019-20 to 34% with the Clippers this year–Ibaka’s offensive versatility as a 7-footer and composure on both ends of the court in big games would have provided the team with a major boost in their current series against the Utah Jazz and Defensive Player of the Year award winner Rudy Gobert.
Ibaka has a player option for $9,742,000 to return to the Clippers next season. After a dip in production, significant time missed due to injury, and now back surgery, it seems increasingly likely that he will choose to take that guaranteed money to return to the team next year. At 31 years old (turning 32 in September), he will be able to secure another healthy NBA contract if he returns to health and good form next season. However, Ibaka’s future with the team is likely more closely tied to Leonard than money–if his superstar buddy, who was one of the main draws of LAC, chooses to depart the team as a free agent this off-season, Ibaka might look to take a paycut elsewhere in order to look for a rotation spot on a contender.
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