The Los Angeles Clippers‘ primary objective in 2021-22 is a fairly straightforward one — win as many basketball games as possible and hope that Kawhi Leonard can return by season’s end. Depending on how that goes, changes may or may not occur as the campaign unfolds.
A healthy Clippers squad, with Leonard in the fold, is one that eats at the contender’s table; the team clearly figured something out last season. And as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” With Leonard out, though, this is a funky year and one league insider can envision a scenario where someone gets moved.
In his latest piece for HoopsHype, Michael Scotto attempted to identify the top candidate to be traded for every team in the Association. As he sees it, the Clippers could “decide to get something back” for their candidate at the deadline “depending on where they rank in the Western Conference standings.”
Surprisingly, the player he was referring to wasn’t the oft-traded Eric Bledsoe. Instead, Scotto namechecked Serge Ibaka as the Clippers’ top trade candidate.
Skills on a Friendly Deal
Scotto’s logic behind picking Ibaka here boils down to skills and deals. At 32 years old, the big man has been around for a while and knows what it takes to win a title (as he did with the Raptors in 2019). But he also showed that he can still perform at a high level last season.
Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just 23.3 minutes per contest in 2020-21. He also logged an effective field goal percentage of 56.3, one of the better marks of his 13-year career. Along the way, he showed flashes of the form that made him an All-Defensive Team pick previously.
In other words, he’s the kind of player who could hold a lot of appeal for a team looking to load up for a run at the Larry O’Brien trophy, just as he did for the Clippers when they inked him last November.
Moreover, he’s on a team-friendly, expiring contract that will pay him just $9.7 million this season. It’s a number that would be relatively easy for most teams to work onto their books.
The flip side of that, though, is that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer. So, the Clippers will have to deal him before the deadline if they want to get something for him. And questions remain about how he’ll bounce back from offseason back surgery.
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Ibaka on His Expectations for the Clippers
During an October 21 appearance on ESPN’s NBA Today, Ibaka was asked about his expectations for the Clippers after they advanced to the Western Conference Finals last season. In his eyes, the trials and tribulations Los Angeles faced during that run will have an effect this season.
“We have our confidence from last year,” Ibaka said. “We all saw without Kawhi, with all the injuries we had and even Marcus [Morris], he was 50 percent, and then [Ivica Zubac], where he was down on top of that. We were close to the NBA Finals. That shows you how good we are. It’s not going to be easier, it’s going to be a long season, but we believe we can do it.”