Teams often do desperate things in an attempt to make a run at the playoffs. The Orlando Magic did one such thing during the 2016 NBA Draft on Thursday night, and it just might pay off.
Per reports, the team swung a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for power forward Serge Ibaka. To land the defensive-minded big man, Orlando gave up Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and 11th overall pick, Domantas Sabonis.
Oklahoma City has traded Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic, league sources told @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
Why Ibaka Makes Sense
The knee-jerk reaction here was that the Magic were jam-packed with talent and for the second straight year, the team has managed to trade away a top young talent. Last year the team gave up Tobias Harris for two veteran players – one of which was Ilyasova and the other a departing Brandon Jennings. Now they ship off Oladipo, who was one of the team’s best pure scorers, could handle the ball well and knew how to attack the rim.
Needless to say, at least on paper, it looked like Orlando was taking a hit offensively. Losing the 11th pick can’t help, either.
Again, this was the knee-jerk, on paper reaction. And it’s probably the wrong one.
The reality is, Oladipo wasn’t getting Orlando to the playoffs before this trade, and unless the Magic found a way to improve defensively, he wasn’t going to be the difference-maker going forward, either. There is no denying Oladipo’s youth, talent and upside. However, the Magic are loaded with guard talent and probably didn’t mind Evan Fournier stepping into a full-time position. Fournier isn’t the defender or penetrator Oladipo is, but he’s more in control and is the superior (and more consistent) shooter. In an even more expanded role, it’s possible he really takes off.
But the big deal here is Ibaka, who was seemingly more and more out of place with the Thunder, and was a threat to walk after the 2016-17 season, which is a contract year. He could still do that in Orlando, too, but now he knows the Magic want him and they have big plans for him.
For one, Ibaka may be utilized more offensively than he ever has before. He was third in line at best in OKC, but now he could be more of a focal point of the offense, or at least benefit from Orlando’s system.
It’s his defensive presence that got him traded, though, as new head coach Frank Vogel plans to turn the Magic around on that end of the court and needed an enforced to do just that. Ibaka fits the bill, as even with the NBA stretching things out at his position, he was still able to manage 1.9 blocks per game. As solid as that number is, it’s a steep decline from Ibaka’s past results (2.4 blocks or more in each of last five seasons).
One good way to offset that is for Orlando to go small at time and use Ibaka at the five, where Ibaka could impact Orlando’s poor defense via good paint defense, shot-blocking and rebounding. Just 26 years old, Ibaka could be a great long-term acquisition if the team can convince him to re-sign. At the worst, he’s a fantastic defensive addition for a team that simply didn’t have many bright spots on that end of the court.
OKC Wins, Too
With Ibaka’s contract expiring after this season, Kevin Durant hitting free agency now and Russell Westbrook going into free agency next year, OKC knew they had to start making some difficult decisions. The acquisition of three players for one slated to either leave or get over-paid was a great move, especially since they all play specific roles. Sabonis doesn’t do anything sexy and isn’t explosive, but he’s a fine young two-way talent that has a decent face up game and can already rebound. Once he gets stronger, he should be able to hone his post game and become a solid defender, as well.
Ilyasova is a solid veteran throw-in that can also play the four, but the real key to this trade is OKC finally gets that third offensive impact player they’ve lacked ever since James Harden went to Houston. If KD stays, they improve their offense and still have enough pieces that the loss of Ibaka won’t be felt as much on the defensive end. If KD goes, they added a second scorer and ball handler next to Westbrook and the Thunder can begin to rebuild without their other superstar.
Enes Kanter’s emergence as a solid defender in the playoffs made this deal even more possible, as well. Kanter has improved in his effort and timing defensively, and we know how good he is offensively already. Locked up to a long-term deal, he makes sense as a bigger piece of the puzzle going forward for the Thunder and it’s not crazy to think he could see a lot more time at the four. His rise on defense will have to be more than a burst and sustainable for that to work out, but the Thunder arguably come out as big winners in this deal.
As bad as this may have looked initially, this is actually a good trade for a team that won 35 games a year ago. The Magic were already making mild progress, then they upgraded at head coach and now landed a veteran power forward who knows how to win and won’t slack on defense. Ibaka alone won’t bring the Magic a title. Elfrid Payton still needs to find a way to keep defenses honest by improving his jumper, Nikola Vucevic either needs to defend better or get traded and the other Magic guards need to make up for the loss of Dipo.
Orlando was already close to the playoffs last year, though, and inconsistency on defense was a big reason they couldn’t make it in. If they can add 1-2 solid free agents this summer, they could put the finishing touches on a successful transformation that ends with them back in the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard left town.