Making Sense of the Magic Acquiring Serge Ibaka

Despite some outside criticism, the Magic organization is excited about the acquisition of Serge Ibaka.

6 min read
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Coming into the NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic were said to be shopping their 11th overall pick. The team was looking to acquire a proven veteran player to add to its young nucleus that could help the group take the next level in their development and return to the playoffs.

Orlando did just that as they acquired Serge Ibaka from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Domantas Sabonis. The trade reportedly happened just minutes before the team selected Sabonis and was later made official by the two teams.

The initial reaction to the trade seemed to be generally negative as most felt that the team gave up too much to acquire Ibaka. After all, Oladipo was the second overall pick in 2013 and has shown that he has plenty of potential to continue developing on both ends of the court. He was widely adored by fans for his ability to drive to the rim and lock down opponents on the defensive end.

It seems a bit premature to determine which team emerged as the winner and loser of the trade considering it took place two days ago and there are still more moves to be made by both teams heading into free agency.

While some have criticized the move, it’s clear that the Magic’s front office is thrilled to have acquired Ibaka. This is a player that they see can jumping in immediately and making an impact on both ends of the floor. Ibaka has added a three-point shot to his arsenal over the years and is a great defender after earning All-Defensive First Team honors in three consecutive seasons.

“I think we’re excited about the versatility he brings and we’re excited about the experience he brings having played in a lot of big games,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. “His experience is a plus and we feel like he fits next to [Nikola Vucevic], he fits next to Aaron Gordon and it just gives us a lot of versatile, interchangeable parts. We really do think it helps fortify our frontcourt by adding toughness and athleticism; a real competitive spirit to that portion of the roster.”

Many believe that the Magic perhaps gave up too many assets in order to acquire Ibaka. The team has said for many weeks now that they would be as aggressive as they could be in trying to upgrade the roster. Given their desire to field a team that could compete for a playoff spot, adding a prospect that would need time to develop didn’t seem to fit into their plans.

While parting ways with Oladipo was a tough move to make, it did make some sense for the Magic. Along with Oladipo, the team has another shooting guard on the roster in Evan Fournier, who is set to hit restricted free agency this summer. While Fournier will be a free agent this summer, Oladipo will hit restricted free agency next summer.

In all likelihood, the team was not going to retain both Oladipo and Fournier long term given the similarities each player has. Rather than risk losing Oladipo for nothing, the team opted to trade him now while he still holds value. With Oladipo now with the Thunder, it seems likely that the Magic will match any offer Fournier may receive this summer.

The general area where most have a problem with this move is Ibaka will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He is set to enter the final year of his contract that will pay him $12,250,000 next season. The Magic could potentially lose Ibaka next summer for nothing and have wasted valuable assets in Oladipo, Ilyasova and the 11th pick.

Hennigan and head coach Frank Vogel didn’t seem too concerned last night speaking to the media about the possibility of losing Ibaka next summer. Hennigan feels that his prior connection with Ibaka during his time in the Thunder front office and the Magic putting a winning product onto the floor will be enough to sway Ibaka into re-signing long term.

With the draft now in the rear-view mirror, the team will now turn its attention to free agency, which starts on July 1. Prior to last night’s trade, the team had the ability to create as much as $52 million in cap space depending on how they handled a few contracts. The early estimates after the deal don’t seem to impact the team’s ability to still add at least one max-contract in free agency.

Adding an accomplished player like Ibaka gives the Magic a lot of confidence that they’ll be able to make a serious run at some of the top free agents. Players like Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, Chandler Parsons and DeMar DeRozan are among the top names that could be available in free agency.

“I believe we’re going to win,” Vogel said of the team’s pitch to free agents. “That’s the biggest thing free agents want to know. They want to hear that, they want to believe in it. That’s an easy sell for me; it’s the reason I’m here.

“The roster that we have in place here, [we have] flexibility with the cap to even add to it and make it even stronger. We have several talented players entering their prime. … I believe that we’re going to have a lot of success in free agency. This is going to be a destination where guys want to play.”

While the Magic will likely have a lot of cap space this summer, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll ultimately be able to sign one of those top free agents. They have made several moves in recent months to position themselves to have the opportunity to sign some players, so it’s a gamble that we’ll see how it pans out in the coming weeks.

Orlando’s plan during their rebuild was to collect assets in an attempt to build a consistent playoff contender. They were able to turn some of those assets into a proven player in Ibaka without significantly sacrificing their cap flexibility this summer.

What happens from here is anyone’s guess, but it should make for one interesting summer for the Magic and their fans.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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