Ibaka’s contract suggests the Raptors could also be nearing an agreement to retain free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry, as USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt indicated late Saturday night. Re-signing Ibaka and Lowry suggests Toronto will be back in the hunt for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference next season.
Ibaka averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over 31 minutes in 23 games as a starter after Toronto traded Terrence Ross and a first-round pick for the 27-year-old floor-spacing rim protector at the deadline. He posted similar numbers on the Raptors’ road to being swept in the second round.
Once considered an integral part of the Oklahoma City’s championship-contending core, the Thunder dumped his expiring contract to to the Orlando Magic at the 2016 NBA draft for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis — the same two pieces they just used to expire Paul George on an expiring deals.
A report last week indicated teams may have been hesitant about signing the Congo native to a lucrative contract over questions about whether he was indeed 27 years old. Ibaka vehemently denied those rumors on Saturday, and then reportedly agree to a three-year, less-than-max deal in Toronto.
The $20 million-plus price tag is a fair one in the modern NBA’s marketplace for Ibaka, even if he has slipped defensively since his heyday as a potential franchise cornerstone in the paint during OKC’s run to four conference finals in six years. Still an athletic specimen, he shot 39 percent on four 3-point attempts per game last season, and he’s only missed more than four games in a season once since his rookie year, making him an attractive power forward or center option in the pace-and-space era.
However, retaining him makes little sense if the Raptors do not intend to also re-sign Lowry, who shares an agent with Ibaka, because Toronto would be heading for a rebuild. The Raptors took a step back from their 2016 conference finals appearance even with Ibaka on the roster, and to lose him or Lowry could mean falling further in the standings. Keeping both at least means staying in the hunt.
Toronto just lost defensive stalwart and trade deadline acquisition P.J. Tucker to the Houston Rockets in free agency, and sixth man extraordinaire Patrick Paterson remains a free agent, but the Ibaka signing at least gives Raptors fans hope the team is ready to blow the team up completely in 2017-18.
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