No matter what happens for the Lakers in the days after the upcoming NBA draft, when the league will begin its free-agency period, they will likely try to lure multiple veterans seeking to play for a contender to L.A., offering a chance at a championship but unable to offer a sizable payout as the team sits over the salary cap already.
One target is Raptors big man Serge Ibaka, according to executives around the league.
“From a personnel standpoint, he is exactly the kind of combo big guy that team (the Lakers) needs,” one NBA general manager told Heavy.com. “They have had interest in him before and they will again. When he is healthy he is an excellent spot starter at the 5 (center) and the 4 (power forward). He is as good a bench big guy as there is in the league. He was a really credible 3-point threat last year. If he is willing to accept what the Lakers can afford to give him, I know they would want him.”
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Ibaka is 31 years old and has been in the NBA for 11 seasons. He helped Toronto to the 2019 NBA championship, but is entering free agency and with the Raptors looking to keep guard Fred VanVleet this offseason just as Pascal Siakam’s maximum-payout extension is hitting the books, Ibaka might not figure into Toronto’s plans.
Lakers Limited in What They Could Pay Serge Ibaka
The Lakers will have their mid-level exception, worth $9.8 million, available this offseason, but the team would likely want to split that among multiple players rather than hand the whole thing to one guy. They also have a $4 million bi-annual exception available.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Ibaka has already made $120 million over the course of his career and, last season, earned $23 million based on a three-year, $64 million deal he signed in 2017. He won’t get a contract in that neighborhood, of course.
But Ibaka’s numbers have been solid. He had a down year in 2017-18, his first in Toronto, but he bounced back the past two years, averaging better than 15 points and eight rebounds in both seasons with 78 starts in 129 appearances. He recovered from a terrible year shooting the 3-pointer (29.0%) in 2018-19 with a sterling 38.5% mark from the arc last season.
For his career, Ibaka has been a 36.0% 3-point shooter, and even better (39.0%) in the playoffs. That is one reason many feel he would fit well with the Lakers, serving as an inside-out center alongside Anthony Davis, giving the Lakers the ability to spread the floor with both big men.
Ibaka is also an entertaining character, hosting his own show, “How Hungry Are You?”
Ibaka is tested, too. He has been in 124 playoff games, twice reaching the Finals (in 2012 with Oklahoma City and 2019 with the Raptors). In his rookie year, the Thunder lost their first-round playoff matchup, but in nine postseasons since, no team Ibaka has played for has lost in the first round.
Could Serge Ibaka Stay in Toronto?
Ibaka could be willing to stick around in Toronto, as he is said to enjoy the city and the culture the Raptors have built. But with the Raptors unable to play in Canada this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unlikely he would be in Toronto even if he stuck with the Raptors.
There was wild speculation earlier this year when it was pointed out that Ibaka had removed all reference to the Raptors from his social media bio, but Ibaka wound up having a laugh at that notion. Turns out, he said, he had never referenced the Raptors on his social media bio to begin with.
The Raptors are still the favorite to keep Ibaka. But if he leaves, he would only do so to have a chance at a championship—teams like the Celtics, the Clippers, the Heat, the Mavericks and the Trail Blazers are among those interested in Ibaka. The Lakers, though, would offer him the best chance at another ring.