Thursday night, Aaron discussed some Orlando Magic trade topics in advance of the NBA trade deadline on February 23rd. Conspicuously absent from that piece was any discussion of Serge Ibaka. That’s because he was saving it for this longer piece. Please enjoy. - ED
I understand that in the NBA you sometimes have to give up something of value to get something in return (maybe not something of value AND a lottery pick). But what puzzled me the most about the Orlando Magic’s decision to give up Victor Oladipo in a trade for Ibaka was that the organization gave up an upcoming restricted free agent for an upcoming unrestricted one. In other words, they gave up the opportunity to have all the bargaining power in contract negotiations for having zero bargaining power. If Ibaka walks, there’s nothing Orlando can do about it.
I know right now Ibaka is saying all the right things; multiple reports have hinted that he wants to remain in Orlando. But can the Magic feel confident? I mean, honestly? All the losing this year surely can’t help. I’m sure Orlando is actively exploring what options are out there regarding Ibaka, because the bottom line is there are no assurances in professional sports. If the Magic have even a shred of doubt about Ibaka, they must move him.
The thing is—and I think this is what a lot of us forget—other NBA teams have no obligation to bail Orlando out for a questionable decision to trade for Ibaka last summer. I would assume that the majority of the organizations who would be interested in Ibaka are more than happy to just wait until this summer; essentially choosing to save their assets they would have to give up in a trade, and instead opting to gamble that Ibaka would take a little less money and sign with their franchise.
So who out there in the NBA would choose to make a run at Ibaka this year? A team interested in owning his Bird rights? That’s pretty hard to predict on a whim. At the very least, I would assume that a club who views Ibaka as the difference between a first or second round playoff exit versus a chance at a conference championship might offer up an ante. Who fits that billing? Not Golden State, Cleveland, or San Antonio - they’re already at that level.
In my opinion, Toronto, Boston, Washington, Houston, and a mystery team (yes, we’re having fun here) make a lot of sense when discussing a potential Serge Ibaka trade. Let’s take a closer look:
When Clint Capela went down with an injury earlier this season, Houston immediately came to mind as a team that Ibaka would fit in with. However, a deal probably should have happened weeks ago in that case, because Capela is back now for the Rockets. Even so, maybe Houston would see Ibaka as a difference maker who gives them a more legitimate chance to compete with Golden St. and San Antonio.
Of course, this move would probably entail Ibaka agreeing to play primarily the “5”, something he hasn't really done since the beginning of his career. Maybe winning (opposed to what’s happening now in Orlando) would change his mindset? Of course, Ibaka’s former teammate James Harden is the engine that makes Houston’s high powered offense run, so there’s some familiarity there.
To make salaries work, Orlando would have to take back the corpse that is Corey Brewer. That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow (although his deal is an expiring next season, basically it’s another Jeff Green situation). Additionally, I would think Orlando would ask for some combination of Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, and/or Capela. I’m sure Capela is off the table. And the Rockets most likely say “no” to dealing Dekker as well. I kind of see him as the SF of the future for that franchise, he will probably slide into Ariza’s spot in the coming years. Honestly, I don’t think this marriage is as perfect of a match as people think. There are better fits for Ibaka out there, and probably better packages for Orlando as well.
Goldstone proposed deal: Serge Ibaka for Corey Brewer, Montrezl Harrell, and Houston’s 2017 first-round pick
In this deal, the Magic get a young back-up power forward in Harrell who could provide depth behind Aaron Gordon while also allowing Gordon to play small forward in certain situations, if that’s something the organization still wanted to do. The first-round pick would be a late one.
With the Raptors, Hawks, and Wizards close to them in the standings, Boston may feel that a deal for one more piece is something necessary to solidify their status in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics certainly could use some more quality players in their front-court, but Ibaka doesn’t really make a lot of sense for them. Al Horford has his heart set on playing the four, and what the Celtics really need—in addition to rebounding—is not something that Ibaka is going to supply a whole lot of. Nikola Vucevic actually seems like a better fit in Boston than Ibaka. For that matter, Bismack Biyombo does too, but not at his price point.
Still, the Celtics are in a position of wealth when in comes to assets and expiring contracts. If they strike out with other deals, maybe they give Orlando a call regarding Ibaka and try to make it work. I am not in the camp that believes Danny Ainge is willing to deal Jae Crowder because I still think he holds tremendous value for what he brings to that team. And I highly doubt Ainge would be ready to move on so quickly from Jaylen Brown, who he just selected 3rd in the draft last summer.
Boston would be more than willing to move any combination of Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, and/or Kelly Olynyk, because they all have expiring contracts. Those contracts help make a potential deal work, but they don’t help Orlando at all in the future. Boston does have a collection of draft picks to sweeten the pot in any kind of deal. If I’m in Orlando’s camp, I’m not taking back Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m not a fan of either of those guys whatsoever. Ante Zizic, the Croatian big who the Celtics drafted 23rd overall last year, is another solid potentially moveable piece.
Goldstone proposed deal: Ibaka for Amir Johnson, Demetrius Jackson, 2017 second-round pick, and the rights to C Ante Zizic
In this deal, Orlando would take back an expiring contract in Johnson, get a young depth guy in Jackson, and a young big in Zizic. He’d be the haul in this deal, as he’s a young big with considerable upside who’s shown a lot of promise playing in Europe.
The Wizards almost make too much sense as a potential landing spot for Ibaka. The Wizards have quietly been playing really good ball lately. They have one of the best backcourts in the NBA in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Otto Porter has really found himself as an NBA player this season, and we know Marcin Gortat is steady. Ibaka could slide right in to the PF position and help makeup one of the strongest starting lineups in the NBA.
Oh yeah, and Scott Brooks would be coaching Ibaka; they have a bit of history already. The best years of Ibaka’s career were spent playing for Brooks. In my opinion, dealing for Ibaka would mean the Wizards would instantly become contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The downside to all of this is Washington’s salary cap situation. Just this past offseason, the Wizards signed Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, and Jason Smith for a combined $105M (four years, four years, and three years, respectively).
Remember, Ibaka is an upcoming free agent. If I were Washington, I would seriously worry about Ibaka’s signability due to the situation they have found themselves in. Of course, Porter is also an upcoming restricted free agent, and the organization has already stated they intend to keep him. I’m just not sure there would be enough money to go around.
There’s no way Orlando would take back Mahinmi, Nicholson, or Smith (at least I hope not) in any kind of potential deal. They would have to take back Markieff Morris, who I would prefer over those other three guys anyway. I’m not making a deal with the Wizards unless they are willing to part with Kelly Oubre, who had a rough rookie season but is now playing some of the best basketball of his career (15th pick in the 2015 draft).
Goldstone proposed deal: Ibaka for Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr.
In this deal, Orlando would get a back-up four in Morris who would provide Orlando with a bigger-body alternative to Aaron Gordon. At 21, Oubre would be the prize in this deal and could slide into the starting small-forward position in the future. Or he could bust. That would be the gamble.
And now we’ve come to the obvious partner - the Toronto Raptors, who were rumored to be very interested in Ibaka last summer before the Magic outbid them.
The Raptors are another team on this list with a fantastic core: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas are terrific. Toronto is certainly right in the middle of the conversation regarding who the elite Eastern Conference teams are; perhaps as an organization they view Ibaka as a piece that would close the gap between themselves and the Cavaliers.
Just like with the hypothetical Washington deal, I worry about Toronto’s willingness to pull the trigger with Ibaka due to its limited cap space. Can Toronto reasonably think they have a chance to re-sign Ibaka this summer? Remember, Kyle Lowry is a lock to opt-out of his deal, and he will command big bucks.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s just assume Toronto views the opportunity cost of acquiring Ibaka enough to offset the chance of possibly losing him in a few months. You have a few options to take back in a deal: Terrence Ross; expiring contracts such as Patrick Patterson and Jared Sullinger; and young players such as Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo, and Norman Powell.
I like Powell a lot, but I would think Toronto would prefer to trade Ross instead. Powell is on a rookie deal, while Ross makes $10 million per year. The Raptors are going to need the extra flexibility in the near-future. I’m actually not a fan of including Poeltl in this deal. I don’t know why, I just think the Magic need to stop stock-piling fives when the league is moving in a different direction. The Raptors also possess both their own first-round pick and the Clippers’ first in this upcoming draft. I would ask for one of those two to be included as well.
To offset the Raptors losing Ross in their rotation, Jodie Meeks would have been a workable and logical throw-in to the deal. But his recent thumb surgery puts the rest of his season in jeopardy, so I have to scale back a bit on this trade. I decided to go with Siakam, the 27th pick in last year’s draft, over Toronto’s first-round pick next year, but those options are interchangeable.
Goldstone proposed deal: Orlando trades Ibaka to Toronto for Terrence Ross and Pascal Siakam or Toronto’s 2017 first-round pick
Orlando gets a starting swingman in Ross and a young back-up four in Siakam OR a future 1st round pick. Siakam could potentially be not only a bench guy behind Gordon, but could play alongside him in some alignments.
Drumroll.........and the mystery team: Denver Nuggets
I know, I’m breaking my own rules here. The Nuggets are not a Serge Ibaka away from being one of the top teams in the Western Conference, but hear me out.
Denver is absolutely in the playoff discussion, in a virtual tie with the Trail Blazers for the West’s final playoff seed. The 21-27 record doesn’t look great, but they have won six of their last ten. What I love about Denver as an Ibaka option is its cap flexibility. The Nuggets are nearly $18 million under the cap this season, which enables them to fit Ibaka’s salary without shedding a whole lot in return, and they have the space and ability to re-sign Ibaka moving forward. Denver, regardless of its finish this season, would definitely represent an organization that has a lot to gain by obtaining Ibaka’s Bird Rights.
Cap-wise, Ibaka makes sense in Denver, and personnel-wise he would help out a lot as well. I think Ibaka would fit really nicely next to Nikola Jokic and Denver’s young core. One can assume the Nuggets would send Orlando either Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler in any deal for Ibaka, and that could be the case. But again, because of their cap situation, they wouldn’t necessarily have to. Because the Nuggets can pretty much absorb Ibaka as is, and assuming that they would want to keep as many veterans as possible for a playoff push if they were dealing for him anyway, Orlando would instead be able to choose from a multitude of younger players on rookie deals.
Along with Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray represent the core of Denver’s future plans, but that still leaves Will Barton and Malik Beasley, the 19th pick in the 2016 draft, as potential available option in a hypothetical deal. In the front-court, if the Magic wanted to seek younger prospects than Chandler or Gallinari, they could ask about Juancho Hernangomez, the 15th pick in last year’s draft, or Jusuf Nurkic. Denver also holds Memphis’ first-round pick in 2017, as well as its own.
So in summary, in a deal for Ibaka, Orlando could potentially land a package including some combination of the following: Beasley, Barton, Hernangomez, Nurkic, DEN 2017, MEM 2017.
As far as assets coming back, as well as fit both this year and next for Ibaka, I actually believe the Denver Nuggets represent Orlando’s most optimal trade partner.
Goldstone proposed deal: Ibaka for Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez/OR Jusuf Nurkic/OR Memphis’ 2017 first-round pick
Orlando would gain young wing depth in this deal by acquiring Beasley, and could potentially land either a young stretch-four in Hernangomez OR a young and productive center in Nurkic OR a future 1st round pick. Nurkic would allow Orlando to deal either Vucevic or Biyombo as well in a separate deal.