The biggest trade under Rob Hennigan's tenure, as best as I can tell, is also the most divisive among the fanbase. This isn't just about the players involved in the deal, but also includes the discussion about where the franchise is headed, and about the viability of accelerating the rebuilding process. It's also about trading away the closest thing the Magic had to a "franchise player."
To many, Victor Oladipo was the face of the team, and it's probably fair to say he holds the largest share of iconic moments since he's been a part of the Orlando Magic. My personal favorite was from his rookie season, when he denied Damian Lillard's fastbreak dunk with his own incredible block, leaping inch-for-inch to stop the ball at its apex:
Regardless of what you think about the talent, skill, or productivity of the players involved, it's hard to give up on a guy the team's been cultivating since he's been in the league, the team's highest drafted played since, well, their last star. It's especially tough since he's the second such young prospect the team's moved in the last half-year.
In that sense, I can understand the reflexive repulsion toward the deal. In fact, if Nikola Vucevic gets moved, as some expect, that will effectively mark the end of the Magic's rebuilding "core" as we knew it. It all started with Oladipo, Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, and Kyle O'Quinn, and it's possible all of them will be gone before the 2016 season kicks off. Ironically, it may only be the mercurial Andrew Nicholson who survives the offseason, and even that's not a guarantee at this point.
Then, only behind this backdrop of the rebuild and sentimentality, do we finally get to try to evaluate the trade on its own merits, a task that itself proves especially difficult. Once again, the opinions are divisive. There's no broad consensus about how good either of the major players are. Oladipo could be a budding star at the shooting guard position, a two-way player does just enough of everything to make him a valuable part of any team. Alternatively, you might think he's already hit his ceiling as a subpar shooter and an overrated defender who struggles to finish around the rim.
Meanwhile, the version of Ibaka you believe in boils down to what years you choose to pay attention to. The Ibaka from 2011 to 2014 was a menace on the defensive end, leading the league in blocks for three straight seasons on the way to three straight first-team All-Defense selections. At the same time, he was an underrated contributor on offense, stretching his game out to the three-point line while still maintaining a high field goal percentage.
You might also choose to believe in the more recent version of the Congolese big man, in which case you'd see a player whose contributions have gradually shrunk and whose role has faded to the margins as his more star-powered teammates took over a greater and greater share of the team's production. Ibaka looks less like the stretch-4 you'd hope for when he only hits 32.6% of his 3-pointers, as he did this season. You could even argue that he wasn't the best defender on the team anymore, with Steven Adams's rise to prominence, especially in the playoffs.
Throw in the extra assets Orlando threw into the deal, and it's clear there's a lot of moving parts to break down.
Let's hit the obvious pros and cons of the trade for Orlando, and address the importance of the other assets the Magic included in the trade. The main appeal of Ibaka, of course, is his defense, especially as a means to compensate for Vucevic's lack of rim protection. Even if Ibaka never regains his touch from long range, he's the best defensive player the Magic have had since Dwight Howard, practically by default.
The trade also clears up crowded backcourt situation. Oladipo, Evan Fournier, and Mario Hezonja all competed for minutes at the 2-guard spot, and the situation was complicated enough that all three of them spent time bouncing between point guard and the nominal small forward position. Fournier's not a lock to stay in Orlando, but the Oladipo trade signals they'll be trying to keep him around as he fields offers in restricted free agency.
On the other hand, they might just be trading a backcourt problem for more front court traffic. Many observers have rightly questioned how Aaron Gordon fits into the rotation now. Does he play backup? Does he start as the small forward? The former feels like a waste of his potential, but the latter forces him into a less natural position where he might not have the necessary shooting skills to properly space the offense. When they do play together, I suspect it'll be a bit of a hybrid situation, in which Serge operates on the wing and corners on offense but defends bigs on the other end.
The biggest issue, arguably, is that Ibaka's contract is pretty unfavorable to Orlando. Not only is he being paid more than Oladipo's rookie-scale earnings, he'll also be an unrestricted free agent after just one season. Worst case scenario, the Magic give up Oladipo and a lottery pick for a 1-year rental, at which point Ibaka walks away to find a more competitive team. On the other extreme, Orlando might be able to convince him to stay, but only by overpaying him next summer when the salary cap makes another giant leap upwards. Even if Ibaka provides a lot of short term results, taking on his contract brings a lot of long-term risk.
As far as the "other guys" go, I'm less concerned about giving up those assets. Ersan Ilyasova, frankly, is a non-factor as far as the Magic go. He might be capable of providing some kind of reasonable backup minutes elsewhere, but his destiny was almost certainly to be trade fodder, given his mostly non-guaranteed contract. He could have been swapped for a future second round pick and I would have been fine with it.
Considering the draft pick, I've seen a lot of folks comparing life with and without Domantas Sabonis, but that's not really the right approach. First and foremost, the selection was almost certainly determined by the Thunder, and had Orlando kept the pick for themselves, it's entirely possible they could have drafted someone else.
The better approach is to consider what the 11th pick is worth more generally, and historically speaking you tend to find role players and bench players in that range. This isn't to say stars are impossible to find (Klay Thompson was picked 11th), but it's just not the norm. The best the Magic could hope for at 11th was a nice player who could be a solid contributor in a few years, and frankly, they've been loaded with those kinds of guys for a while now.
In other words, to me, this deal mostly boils down to Oladipo versus Ibaka.
What are Oladipo's strengths?
Oladipo has long been the hardest player for me to wrap my head around. Usually, I'm a numbers guy. I use advanced stats to inform a big part of how I judge the productivity of players, and I have a soft spot for Moneyball-types of decision-making. I don't rely exclusively on metrics to evaluate players and teams, but I never ignore them.
With Victor, it's been the opposite. Oladipo usually fails my personal "eye-test," for whatever that's worth. I get frustrated when he can't make 3-pointers consistently. I get annoyed when he settles for long, pull-up 2-pointers. I see someone who struggles to defend pick-and-rolls, even as I read over and over again from other writers that he's supposedly one of the best defensive guards in the league.
And yet, every time I dig up the numbers, he outperforms my expectations. By most advanced statistics, Oladipo looks like an above-average shooting guard. Some stats, like ESPN's Real Plus Minus, suggest he might even be an excellent shooting guard, as he posted the 6th highest RPM among SGs this season, ahead of guys like Klay Thompson or Kyle Korver. As much as we might want him to be a better shooter, he's still about league-average from long range, and he's still been a valuable contributor to the offense. Tellingly, based on offensive efficiency, the Magic's offense was at its very worst when Oladipo was off the court, scoring just 100.5 points per 100 possessions.
The truth, as is usually the case with these things, is probably somewhere in the middle. I suspect most people don't believe Oladipo's really the 6th best SG, or even the 10th best. If we're being fair, though, he shouldn't rank terribly far past that point, and at worst, he's roughly an average starting 2-guard.
I stand by my assessment that Oladipo's being overrated on defense. When he's put into situations where he can rely on his athleticism and speed, he's able to make some outstanding plays (for example, a certain block on a certain Blazers point guard). In the context of a team defensive scheme, however, he makes mistakes and forces his teammates into difficult positions. This isn't to say he's beyond coaching, and I actually think he'll really thrive in OKC.
Where Oladipo is underappreciated is on the offensive end, and the numbers back that up. To borrow the aforementioned RPM evaluation (which, by the way, should never be used as a straight-up positional power ranking), Oladipo actually derives most of his value from the offensive component of the stat. His overall RPM was +2.59, split into +1.8 on offense and +0.79 on defense, and you'll find a similar trend with other similar stats.
Oladipo's greatest value offensively was his versatility. No other player on the roster possessed the same combination of scoring, passing, and ball handling skills, and even if he wasn't above average in any one of those areas, he was capable of leading the offense whenever he was on the court. That versatile ability is what the Magic will miss most.
Which Serge Ibaka did Orlando trade for?
This is the true crux of the trade, the mystery that settles whether Orlando set themselves up for success. If Orlando gets 2016 Serge Ibaka, it's hard to justify the deal. That version of Ibaka would probably make the Magic a little bit better, particularly when it comes to protecting the rim, but he's not going to move the needle enough to make up for giving up on another core member of the team. It'll be easy to look around and say "I get why Serge is playing...but I kinda wish we were just giving these minutes to Gordon."
Bad Ibaka isn't a good outside shooter, and without that floor spacing element, a lot of potential Magic lineups becomes a lot less appealing. The Gordon-Ibaka combos, in particular, look less potent if Ibaka isn't compensating for Gordon's lack of shooting touch. Bad Ibaka is also a pretty lackluster rebounder, posting career lows in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage this season.
Maybe it's my persistent optimism talking here...but I don't think Orlando traded for Bad Ibaka. From a pure organizational perspective, I don't believe Rob Hennigan would make this trade if he thought he was getting the inferior model. I know fans are frustrated about the return on the Harris and Channing Frye deals, and I promise I'm still not happy about them either, but most of the time the players Hennigan picks up tend to play better than we expect. That was true for Vucevic, for Harris, for Fournier, and I think that will prove true for Ibaka as well..
There are other reasons to expect better from him. Ibaka is just 26 years old, entering what should be the best years of his career. It's one thing for someone like LeBron to lose his shooting touch as he gets into his 30s (and then inexplicably make every shot he wants halfway through the Finals and oh my god I can't believe they actually won the title), but I'd bet it's well within Ibaka's capacity to regain his long-range prowess from two years ago.
Ibaka also strikes me as a very natural fit with Frank Vogel, and it wouldn't surprise me to hear the Magic's new head coach played a major role in pushing for this deal. Vogel usually gets the most out of his big men, and Ibaka should fit nicely into the kinds of defensive schemes Vogel used in Indiana.
A fresh start might do Ibaka a lot of good, too. His usage rate was his lowest since 2011 as Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant took on a greater and greater share of possessions, and getting out from under their collective shadow should provide Ibaka more opportunities to be an active part of the offense.
Again, the range of possibilities is vast. Ibaka could be terrible, at which point the team no longer wants him. He could be outstanding, in which case the team can no longer convince him to stay. He could end up sticking around in either situation. Ultimately, we probably won't be able to assign a true grade to this deal for maybe two or three years, not just to see how he pans out with his new team, but to find out how well his old team fares without him.
Then again, maybe trading for Ibaka leads to the 1-in-a-1000 chance Durant actually signs with Orlando this Summer, and we can slap an 'A' on this deal right away. Let's root for that, shall we?