Feature image: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star
Patience is a virtue. It’s also a boring virtue, but it’s finally paid off for Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri. On Tuesday, February 15th, it was announced that the Raptors had acquired Magic power forward Serge Ibaka in exchange for Terrence Ross and the less favourable draft pick between L.A. Clippers’ first round pick and the Raptors’ first round pick.
Ujiri has long coveted a power forward, the Raptors’ most glaring weakness. Head coach Dwane Casey has tried a number of different players at that power forward position including rookies Pascal Siakam and Jacob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, DeMarre Carroll had started some games at power forward (with Norman Powell slotting into those particular starting lineups), Jared Sullinger and Patrick Patterson. Nearly half of the roster have tried their hand at power forward and none have stuck, Siakam starting the most games out of all of guys — 38.
But this isn’t a new problem for the Raptors, they had this issue last season too. By far the weakest link of the 2015-16 starting lineup that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals was power forward Luis Scola. The fact that Scola was a starting power forward in 2016 is mind boggling and Masai made it no secret that the Raptors were looking to upgrade at that position, confirming on ‘The Starters’ at All-Star weekend 2016 that the Raptors were looking to improve in the power forward department.
“We understand that there is a window in the NBA now, but I think that patience sometimes matters, but we’ll see what comes up at the deadline.”
“In the power forward position, we addressed the three, but unfortunately DeMarre Carroll got hurt and hopefully we get him back by the end of the season, but that power forward position has always been a position that we need to get better. We understand that so we’ll try and figure that out whether that’s now or in the summer.”
∼ Masai Ujiri
There were certainly power forwards to be had before/at the deadline in 2016.
It was no secret by then that Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris was available for a somewhat decent first round pick and the Raptors owned not only their own first round pick but New York’s first rounder too. But Ujiri did not want to part with that lottery bound Knicks pick for Morris, and in the end the Washington Wizards gave into the Suns’ demands.
I’m almost certain that then-Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson — who was an impending free agent — was also available but there was always the feeling that Anderson would’ve tested free agency if he was traded, so that killed the dynamic of any team trading any significant assets for Ryno.
Tobias Harris, who can play power forward, was able to be snagged from Orlando without the Detroit Pistons having to give up a first round pick. Surely, if the Raptors wanted to, there could’ve been a deal on the table here for Ujiri.
Channing Frye was also available but eventually ended up with the Cavaliers and all the Magic got for him was a second round pick from Portland and Jared Cunningham, who they later waived. That’s all. Frye would’ve been a great asset for the Raptors and it didn’t take much to acquire him, as it turned out. Another missed opportunity.
That’s quite a number of power forwards who were available before free agency or the draft…
In the draft, the Raptors did not elect to select a power forward with their ninth overall selection but did draft Cameroonian power forward Pascal Siakam with their 27th overall pick. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, in a video essay, the Raptors were looking to acquire OKC power forward Serge Ibaka, but OKC’s asking price was too high and in the end the Orlando Magic overpaid horribly for Ibaka, sending Victor Oladipo, the 2017 11th overall selection (Domantas Sabonis) and Ersan Ilyasova to the Thunder for the expiring deal of Ibaka.
Masai did not want to surrender depth nor future assets to acquire Ibaka, and could only watch as Ibaka sailed in the Orlando sunset.
Free agency presented a new opportunity for the Raptors to address their power forward need and they seemed to find a very decent solution for the price they paid, signing Jared Sullinger for one season on a, roughly, $5.6 million deal. This was the best they were going to do without trading away rotation players to free up cap space, they already had to let Bismack Biyombo walk as it was. Toronto simply didn’t have the cap space to splash on the likes of Ryan Anderson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams.
Unfortunately, a foot injury prevented Sullinger playing until January 18th and the Raptors, as we’ve talked about already, had to dip throughout the roster to try and fill that void. But as the season went on, the Orlando Magic continued to struggle and — according to Woj — Ibaka informed the front office that he would likely leave in the summer. With Ibaka on an expiring deal and the Magic now doomed to lose him, the asking price was greatly reduced and Masai finally made his move.
“Trades are hard to do, you know? He’s a guy that we’ve always had an eye on, but obviously, other teams do, too. And Orlando had him for a while. I think our team needed a boost, to be honest. And we’re at that point where I think everybody knows that — it’s not rocket science — that was a missing link on our team. Patrick (Patterson) has done a great job, but I think we needed a couple guys in that position, a prime guy in that position. And he’s one of the better power forwards in the league.
Masai has waited a long time in the NBA to acquire a starting calibre power forward and his patience has finally paid off. Out of all the power forwards that have been available (the ones mentioned above), Ibaka — as a two way player — is the best of the bunch. A motivated Serge Ibaka could be the difference for the Toronto Raptors, who have plummeted to fifth in the Eastern Conference. With Kevin Love out for an extended period of time, the Raptors’ time to make their move in the East is now.
Will it pay off? Will Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka click? Are there more moves to be made before the deadline? Time will tell.