NBA Off-Season (So Far)
Is there an offseason in sports that compares to the NBA? In recent years, we’ve had “The Decision”; we had “Emoji Gate” and the DeAndre Jordan saga among other things. This year we have an intriguing FA market, headlined by Kevin Durant and we’ve already had a big trade.
On draft night, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded F/C Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for G Victor Oladipo, C Donatas Sabonis, and F Ersan Ilyasova. It feels like Ilyasova has been traded every year since like 2005.
Anyway, I thought it was a bit of an odd trade because the Orlando Magic trading a young two guard with upside in theory for an older big man isn’t something you expect. And yes I know that Serge Ibaka is “26”. This isn’t how the Orlando Magic typically operate and this is the type of trade when you feel like you can make a big jump in the standings. Can they? We will see, won’t we?
As for my thoughts on the trade, I understand both sides but I feel like this deal is immensely riskier for the Orlando Magic because they sent off a heavy return for a guy in the last year of his deal. While Ibaka is still a really good player, in addition to being an expiring deal he is also a guy who might have already met his ceiling. Not many occurrences have happened when a team has gotten this much for a guy who checks the boxes Ibaka does.
Ibaka fits a role that will never be extinct in the NBA. While the “switch everything” phase in the NBA makes things a little harder for Ibaka given that he doesn’t have a reliable post game, he’s still a versatile big man who can play in whatever kind of lineups you want to throw out there. His shooting and rim protection combination can be used on any team. I do think Ibaka was expendable from OKC’s point of view because he apparently was unhappy and they have a guy who can somewhat replicate what Ibaka brings in spurts. His name is Kevin Durant.
Is Kevin Durant going to bring the type of rim protection that Ibaka does on a CONSISTENT basis? No. Can he do it in bursts like he did in the Warriors series? There were several periods in that series where Warrior players drove at Kevin Durant with hesitation and fear. He will see some time at the four, assuming he re-signs in OKC, and can unlock some major advantages for Oklahoma City on both ends of the floor. And in the event that he leaves, the Thunder got a young wing who can improve, and a young talented big man. While I’m not on the “OKC robbed Orlando” bandwagon I do think they got the considerably better end of the trade.
Orlando has some young evolving pieces like PG Elfrid Payton, SG Mario Hezonja (#FreeSuperMario!!!), slam dunk champion Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Vucevic. For the Magic to be real players in the Eastern Conference playoffs next year those guys are going to have to take a significant leap. With Evan “please don’t google my last name" Fournier currently a restricted free agent, the only wing under contract for the Magic is Hezonja and that’s a precarious position but they do have an entire free agent period to fix that. They should pray that nobody gives him a max offer sheet and dares them to match it. It would behoove the Magic to pursue guys like Allen Crabbe, Chandler Parsons and Nicholas Batum. After that, the supply of wings gets pretty dry.
I think Frank Vogel will get the most out of Serge Ibaka and I don’t think it was a bad trade for the Magic. Given the expected timeline for the Magic to be competitive, it was a bit surprising and very risky but we will see how it works for them.
Other NBA offseason thoughts:
-If the Knicks plan on playing Porzingis a lot at the 5, I would like to see them pursue Chandler Parsons. That would make sense, and thus I don’t expect them to do it. Also, if they’re going to pursue Joakim Noah, I’d hope it isn’t more than a two year deal. Anything more is foolish.
-The way the Celtic fans talk about various trade proposals and their never ending quest for a superstar you wonder why they’re looking for a superstar in the first place. You would swear the Celtics were the 1986 version hearing their fans talk.
-While the NBA has in some days devalued guys like Al Horford, I’m very curious to see who ends up interested and where he ends up signing. I think he still has a few years left of high level play and I hope he ends up on a contender after so many years of purgatory.
-Fred Hoiberg confused Robin Lopez with Brook Lopez at the introductory presser in Chicago. Remember when Fred Hoiberg was going to take over and make us all forget about Tom Thibodeau because of his “imaginative” offense. Well, then again it’s hard to run it with a substandard point guard right? Oops.
-I’m not a JR Smith fan and I never thought a team with him as a major contributor would ever win a title, let alone in that fashion. That said, how happy that’s made him and how much he’s enjoying the title is fun as hell. And I love fun. Good for JR.
-Which free agents are the Mavericks going to beg to play for them only to watch them sign somewhere else? I feel like this is a tried and true tradition.
-I can’t wait to laugh at…err, I mean see, is what Harrison Barnes get paid in free agency. After that abomination of the Finals and four years of Barnes having some kind of untapped potential that we are all Stevie Wonder to, I can’t WAIT to see how his free agency goes.
-If the Warriors don’t get Kevin Durant, wouldn’t Nicholas Batum make a lot of sense for them? His playmaking, defense, passing and versatility seems like a perfect fit for Golden State. And he has a really low bar to cross in terms of caliber of play as he would be replacing the aforementioned Harrison Barnes.
-Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo is quite the athletic backcourt and I can’t wait to watch them in action.
-Kevin Durant is going to get a whole bunch of free dinners and go back to Oklahoma City. I really think the time for him to leave would be next year so all these franchises are effectively planting seeds. And an interesting scenario here is: what if he and Westbrook want to be a package deal? Next summer, that is possible. We shall see.