By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@ YawMintYM on Twitter
Thanks to the fortune telling synopsis in the write up Portland and Orlando need to talk trade ASAPand the constant media scrutiny, many were less surprised when news broke of Serge Ibaka’s trade from Orlando Magic to Portland Trailblazers. Another player discussed in the article, Mason Plumlee, has been shipped out of Portland to Denver for a rim protector in Jusuf Nurkic; the Blazers really need one.
The Congolese Forward- Ibaka- had been earmarked as a prime candidate to be traded after the shockingly lopsided exchange between Orlando and Oklahoma City Thunder prior to the season. Ibaka’s presence cluttered Magic’s frontcourt that has another Congolese Bismarck Biyombo, Nik Vucevic, Stephen Zimmerman and Aaron Gordon that made it difficult to move the side to the playoffs.
The trade made with Toronto was in return for high flying Shooting Guard Terrence Ross. Right off the bat, Magic will soon challenge Los Angeles Clippers for the most high flying entertaining dunk machine in the league as the 2013 Champion gets to hang around in midair with 2016 Slam Dunk Contest finalist Gordon and Biyombo. And there is Jeff Green too.
Moving away from the aesthetics though, signing Ross solves some deep problems for Orlando as regular Shooting Guard Jordie Meeks has battled injuries since moving from Los Angeles Lakers. Ross is a streaky shooter who blows hot and cold but makes up for it with his athleticism and quickness.
His move opens the offense for non shooter Biyombo to wreck havoc below the basket and be more effective on defense since he is now the main architect on that end of the court which until this point has been missing. He still will struggle to be as dominant as he was in Toronto since his partners in the frontcourt-Vucevic and Gordon- aren’t very good shooting several feet away from the basket; thus clogging the paint a wee bit more than the Raptors did.
Could Ross’s’ move change the fortunes of a struggling franchise that is below the rebuilding Philadelphia Sixers in the Eastern Conference? No but what this move does is guarantee enough wins for the side that might keep General Manager Rob Hennigan in the hot seat for one more year. Up in the frigid north, Ibaka will experience his first subzero stop in a career that has had stops in warm Spain, Oklahoma and Orlando and in Masai Ujiri, he will experience working for an African General Manager.
However, Ibaka isn’t in Canada for pleasantries and reminiscing about their beloved continent, he is in Toronto to solve the Raptors problems at the Power Forward position. Almost half way through the season, Raptors Coach Dwayne Casey has spun a merry go round heavy on Forwards as the likes of Jakob Poetl, Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger and Lucas Noguiera have played some minutes in the position with little upgrade to show from last season.
The inadequate production from the spot is likely what prompted management to go in for the 6 foot 10 inch man who will be a free agent at the end of the season. The deal is good for Toronto since Ibaka is a three point shooting Forward -like Patterson- but who-unlike Patterson- is durable enough to have an extended run in the team. On the defensive side, he does get his hands dirty by blocking loads of shots and a tough defender to beat in the paint.
Averaging 1.6 blocks per game according to basketballreference.com, is however, Ibaka’s lowest rate of swats since his first year in the league leading many to suggest his contribution in that category is on the decline and could be a potential red flag for any team planning to move in during the offseason including the Raptors. Playing alongside hard driving players in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll gives Ibaka loads of chances to nestle around the three point arc for uncontested shots and easy runs to the basket past defenders scrambling back to close down the space left behind.
For Center Jonas Valanciunas, this move increases the space for him to operate close to the basket and hide his defensive shortcomings.
Most importantly, switching it up might just be what the reeling Raptors need to get back up the charts in the conference after falling from second to fifth due to two wins from the its last seven games played. Management faces major issues no matter how this deal pans out due to Lowry’s own upcoming free agency that will command serious cash. Should Ibaka thrive, his value goes up making it difficult for Toronto to sign him long term in just the same way it lost Biyombo last season. Should Ibaka fail to deliver, management wouldn’t resign him making Ross’s’ departure, who is on a team friendly $11 per annum, a bad move.