Trade grades: Thunder send Ibaka to Magic in draft night's biggest move
The Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to the Magic in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis.
How did Oklahoma City and Orlando come out in the deal? SI.com's Ben Golliver examines the biggest trade of NBA draft night and hands out grades to both teams.
Oklahoma City Thunder Grade: A
Thunder acquire: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis
The Thunder’s decision to break up the core trio that advanced to the Western Conference finals four times in the last six seasons was motivated by a simple fact: Steven Adams supplanted Ibaka on the franchise’s priority pecking order.
Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti has loads of financial decisions to make over the next 14 months: he needs to re-sign Kevin Durant, make a decision on Dion Waiters, re-sign Russell Westbrook and extend or re-sign Adams. With Enes Kanter already locked into a max contract and Durant, Westbrook and Adams all sure to command top dollar, something had to give. That something was Ibaka, who underwent knee surgery in 2015 and whose numbers (12.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and impact regressed last season.
Set to become an unrestricted free agent at age 27 next summer when cap space is bound to be plentiful, Ibaka will fetch big money and a long-term commitment thanks to his proven rim protection, ability to space the floor and extensive postseason experience. With Durant and Westbrook being 1A and 1B on the team’s radar, Adams emerging as a younger and more imposing presence, and Kanter ready for more, Ibaka made the transition from indispensable to expendable.
By proactively moving Ibaka, Presti was able to land multiple worthwhile pieces. Oladipo, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, should give coach Billy Donovan a true threat off the bench. When he came off the bench last season, Oladipo had the makings of a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, as he was able to attack second-unit defenders and put his physical on-ball defensive ability to best use. The Thunder will be able to utilize him as a third guard who handles the ball some or they can pair him with Westbrook in an interchangeable combination that has the potential to punish opposing backcourts. Either way, Oladipo potentially represents leverage against Waiters this summer or he functions as a plug-and-play replacement if Waiters heads elsewhere in free agency.
How exactly the Thunder utilize Ilyasova remains to be seen. At 29, he’s actually a good four years removed from his prime production years due to a number of injuries. He could be used as a spot starter to keep Kanter in a super-sub role or he could be brought on as a second-unit stretch option. Either way, his contract conveniently ends next summer when the Thunder will need to pay up for Westbrook and Adams.
Sabonis counts as a very nice pick-up. A skilled and intelligent big man who came on strong last season at Gonzaga, the son of former international star Arvydas Sabonis has all the makings of a long-term pro. Ibaka’s departure opens up a starting spot for Kanter, leaving open the possibility that Sabonis competes for minutes as a third or fourth big.
This is a textbook Presti move. He sold high on a piece whose value was diminishing, he bought low on lottery talent, he gave himself flexibility (financially and positionally) by acquiring multiple pieces, and he added a young big. Ibaka will be missed, without question, but the Thunder can make the case to Durant that his supporting cast just got deeper, younger and more sustainable.
Orlando Magic Grade: C-
Magic acquire: Serge Ibaka
The good news: Ibaka is now Orlando’s best player. The bad news: Ibaka is now Orlando’s best player. While the perpetually rebuilding Magic have needed to significantly upgrade their talent for years, Ibaka is ideally suited to life as a complementary option on a winning team, rather than as a centerpiece on an identity-less, mishmashed roster.
This deal would have made more sense if Ibaka was under contract at a below-market rate for multiple years, or if he had just put up a career year, or if he had shown a James Harden-like need for a larger role, or if he had a pristine health record. Instead, the Magic have cashed in a key building block in Oladipo and their 2016 lottery pick for a quality defensive player who will attract plenty of offers next summer.
However, the fit here is pretty tempting for three reasons. One: Pairing Ibaka with all-offense, no-defense center Nikola Vucevic is a nice combination that should get the most of out of both players. Two: Ibaka can slide over to play a stretch five, allowing Aaron Gordon to play four and spend most of his time in the basket area, where he’s most effective. Three: Ibaka’s three-point range should help open up the court for no-jumper point guard Elfrid Payton.
On paper, the Oladipo/Payton partnership made little sense given their total lack of shooting, but giving up on the former when the latter is still a major question mark seems misguided. New coach Frank Vogel will be glad he has an interior defender he can trust in Ibaka, but the Magic fan base will have a tough time enjoying the upgrade knowing that his time in Orlando could prove to be either short-lived or frighteningly expensive. This move reeks of an ownership group and front office that’s sick of missing the playoffs by a mile and willing to take a risk they probably should have spent more time calculating.
As a footnote, it’s possible that Ibaka will earn his first All-Star selection in 2017 by virtue of switching conferences to the weaker East.