Clippers Predicted to Lose Key Starter After the Season

Serge Ibaka Clippers

Getty Paul George of the LA Clippers celebrates with teammates Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum

Are Serge Ibaka’s days with the Los Angeles Clippers numbered? Some analysts are suggesting that could be the case.

Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report compiled a list of the most difficult player-option decisions of free agency coming up this summer. While noting Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul were in a “special class” of their own, Hughes listed the next tier of potential free agents and his thoughts on whether they’ll stay with their current teams or exercise their options with the mindset of exploring other opportunities. His thoughts on Ibaka?

He thinks the Clippers big man is a goner.

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Ibaka Predicted to Leave Clippers After the Season

The Clips signed the 31-year-old Ibaka to a two-year, $19 million deal last year, and Hughes thinks that while it worked out well for both sides this season, things could get interesting this summer:

“At a glance, Serge Ibaka gave the Los Angeles Clippers what they paid for,” Hughes wrote. “The 31-year-old averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds in just 23.3 minutes per game. His usage and scoring efficiency were roughly the same as they were in his 2019-20 season with the Toronto Raptors, and his block rate actually improved. That would seem to make declining his $9.7 million player option an easy decision. But look closer, and you’ll find some reasons Ibaka might consider choosing security over a return to the market.”

Hughes then lays out the pros and cons of a potential Ibaka exit:

Every player’s situation is different, but when a 12th season includes signs of injury-related decline, it’s not a great idea to assume the 13th will trend in a different direction. That said, Ibaka’s skill set should still be in high demand. If he was worth the MLE (mid-level exception) last summer, he should be worth it again this time around—especially considering many believed he signed with the Clips for less than his market value. There just aren’t many centers with career averages of at least 2.0 blocks per game and a long-range hit rate of over 35.0 percent. In fact, there’s only one other active player in that club: Myles Turner. Ibaka could easily command a three-year deal worth over $30 million, which makes declining his option the right choice.

Hughes then noted he thinks Ibaka will opt out of his option to test his value on the market.

Ibaka Has Been Battling Back Injury All Season

The injury referenced by Hughes could determine a great deal when it comes to Ibaka’s future. Ibaka had a stretch where he missed 30 games in a row this season dealing with a back issue that has since re-emerged in the playoffs.

The veteran big man did not make the trip to Utah to begin the team’s second-round series against the Jazz, and Clippers coach Ty Lue’s recent comments don’t bode well for the rest of the postseason.

“He had a lot of tightness and soreness this morning,” Lue said after Game 2 against the Mavs, via Andrew Grief of the L.A. Times. “He’s hurting pretty bad.” Lue also said that Ibaka re-aggravated his lower back injury, and his status for the semis remains in doubt.

The center’s health seems key moving forward. If he’s slow to recover, he may decide to stay put. But if he heals quickly, he could very well do what Hughes suggests and opt out. Whatever happens, it will certainly be one of the more intriguing storylines for Clipper Nation to watch this offseason.

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