Should the Raptors consider bringing back Serge Ibaka?

The 32-year-old is a free agent and has a few skills that the Toronto Raptors are lacking at the center position. However, Precious Achiuwa and Khem Birch offer similar production and there likely isn't room for all three. Listen to the full episode on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed or watch on our YouTube.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: On the cheaper side, though, when it comes to centers, another person like, oh, I don't know, Serge Ibaka? Oren, what do you think? What do you think about Serge Ibaka? He's going to be a free agent. Last season, if you all recall, he got traded from the Clippers to the Milwaukee Bucks. They used him for a little while as a bridge for Brook Lopez who was going to be recovering from some injuries. And then playoffs come around and guess what?

Serge Ibaka didn't play much. And that was unfortunate because I think he has more to offer. They went with Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez. And obviously they have Giannis, too. So you got three centers, power forward combinations there. But anyways, it'd be surprising if they brought Serge Ibaka back. And last season, he made $9 million. And if you recall, everyone, in that Tampa year, when the Raptors were really against the cab, they decided not to bring back Serge and Marc because of simply money. And that's how we got the Aron Baynes experiment, which was all kinds of a failure although, I hope he is --

OREN WEISFELD: That was the Scottie Barnes experiment, in other words.

AMIT MANN: Exactly, right? As Maasai said, Tampa, they won. Why? Because we got Scottie Barnes, right? You got to love that. But here is, a person who is very familiar with the RaptorS' culture, a bit of a pick and pop ability, 6'10", 235 pounds, he's turning 33 this year. So obviously a little bit more seasoned. But, i mean, if you're looking to win some championships and he's won the championship already with the Raptors, you need some veteran presence. So you and I have different opinions on this one. Why don't you go first?

OREN WEISFELD: Sure.

AMIT MANN: Or maybe I've convinced you. Have I convinced you? No?

OREN WEISFELD: Not really.

AMIT MANN: OK, fine.

OREN WEISFELD: For the content, I'm convinced. As a Raptors writer and interviewer, I'd love to have Serge back. That would be a lot of fun. But I just think he's a little old and he's coming off this back injury, which worries me because back injuries are just notoriously really hard to get over. And the fact that he got no playoff time for the Bucs does worry me a little bit as well. If we're talking about the mid-level exception, I just think I would go out and find a different type of player than Serge, not just because of the injuries and the elderly manner, but I think we have a lot of Serge-type players.

And, yeah, he is a bit more of a traditional center but he's still not banging in the post with Embiid. He's still not that size. And when you go back and look at that 2019 series against Philadelphia, Ibaka could not do anything against Embiid, even to the point where Precious I think does more of those traditional center things, holding out a guy out of the post, stuff like that, than Ibaka does, especially at this time of his career. So I just think we have a lot of players who are similar to Ibaka and that there are four or five hybrids, can't quite bang with the bigs, the best bigs. So it's a little too much to commit that type of money to him. But, look, if we're talking about like the biannual exception, which the Raptors also have, like the $3 million, $4 million range, yeah, I don't mind it, as a culture guy, for sure, as a locker room guy, and also as a depth piece for their centers. But I think if they did that also, I would wonder what's happening with Khem Birch because they do fill very similar roles.

AMIT MANN: Yes, they do. There's no doubt about that one. Thinking about that December game where he returned to Toronto and he sent out that IG post where it was just like, I'm home. Like, ooh, that makes you feel so comfortable. Like Serge Ibaka, yeah, hits you in the heart, right? It was so unfortunate the way things broke down because I remember when he became a Clipper and when he was talking about what happened with the Toronto Raptors, he's like, we got into a meeting, just like, all right, so let's make something work. And the Raptors were like, I'm not sure we're going to make anything work. He's like, what? But I want to come back. I want to be a Raptor. And they're like, it's not the right time.

So unfortunately, that's how it went. But between the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, I hear you with the back issues because that is a concern. I mean, back issues when you get older, been there, in that, by the way. Seven points and five rebounds in 15-ish minutes between the teams. And, you're right, defensively, it's very similar to Khem Birch. And meanwhile, Khem Birch, by the way, making $6.6 million and he's under contract for two more seasons. He's 6'9", 233. Serge Ibaka is 6'10", 235. At least that's what basketball reference says. So that's where they're at. It's more offensively.

It comes to their halfcourt offense, is where I think that there could be some upside with Serge Ibaka. Because I think about having a pick and pop big, like a true pick and pop big, the Raptors don't have that. And they struggle so much with their halfcourt offense. And we've got to see where OG and Pascal, everyone, how they all come back. But I still think they're going to struggle a little bit with their halfcourt offense. And having someone like him who, when Fred VanVleet is doubled on a pick and he's in there for a mid-range shot, or when it comes to just offensive rebound, I think he does play a little bit bigger than Khem Birch, with his mentality and his toughness.

And I could just see him being a real asset when it comes to a person like Precious, right? Just he's got such a wealth of knowledge that he's going to be able to provide. And it's really coming down to is he going to be able to stay healthy? But from a cultural standpoint, he would be a terrific person. Even Maasai mentioned him during the end of season as he was a person who helped build the Raptors' culture to where it is now. So bringing someone like that back into the fold, big fan of it. But I hear you, though. I mean, it is what it is with him. But the 3-point shot would be very useful. And Khem Birch with his shot, I can't believe he hit two 3's in that series against the 76ers after not hitting one the entire year. But even if he does improve his shot, it's not going to be at the caliber of Serge Ibaka in any way fashion.

OREN WEISFELD: No, I'd agree with you that Ibaka is an upgrade over Birch. And so in a situation where they trade Birch, which I think is a very likely possibility this offseason or at the trade deadline, then Ibaka is your insurance there. And, yeah, I don't mind that at all. But we even saw with how few minutes Birch got in the playoffs, I think if Ibaka got those same minutes, yeah, the Raptors are probably a little bit better.

So I'm all in for if it's that kind of money where it's not messing up really your long term plans or anything, then, yeah bring them back. And then it can be a locker room piece and all that. I just, I wouldn't want to bite into the mid-level exception because I think that's where the Raptors really are going to get a younger, first of all, a younger piece who still has some room to grow, and shooting, and Ibaka is a good shooter for a big, but he's not a lighted up guy. And I think they really need a guy who can add another dynamic to their offense as a guy who can run around screens and that kind of stuff.

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