Serge Ibaka

Raptors Rumors: Kawhi, Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka, Green

The Raptors were confident entering free agency about their chances to re-sign NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, but that confidence began to waver after they met with Leonard and his uncle Dennis Robertson in Toronto last Wednesday, sources tell Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

According to Lewenberg, Leonard and his camp asked for a lot from the Raptors during that meeting — “things players don’t generally ask for in standard contract negotiations,” writes Lewenberg. One of Lewenberg’s sources describes those requests as “unreasonable,” suggesting that Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri wouldn’t have been able to meet them all even if he’d wanted to.

The requests caused the Raptors to question whether Leonard was seriously considering them at all, according to Lewenberg. A belief that Kawhi was eyeing the Clippers all along prompted the Raptors to not get too invested in potential trade discussions with the Thunder. Lewenberg suggests that those preliminary talks included Paul George, but not Russell Westbrook, and didn’t even reach the team’s highest-ranking executives.

Within his own look at the Leonard situation, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca conveys many of the same sentiments that Lewenberg did. According to Grange, as Leonard’s requests became more difficult to meet and communication became less constant, it became more clear that the Raptors weren’t his top priority, as one person close to the talks described it.

Grange adds that the Raptors’ contact with the Thunder in the hours leading up to Leonard’s announcement “may have been somewhat exaggerated.” Toronto tapped out fairly early once it was evident OKC was using talks with the Raptors as leverage.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • One Clippers official who spoke to Grange was relieved that his team was still able to land Kawhi after the success he enjoyed in Toronto in 2018/19: “The Raptors did everything right. We saw the parade, saw those pictures and figured that was it. We were done.”
  • Speaking to reporters, including Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun, Ujiri suggested on Tuesday that he’s not exactly reeling from losing Leonard: “I think we got a great deal out of this. We won a championship, so we’re happy. And, honestly, it’s on to the next. This is the NBA and this is how it works. You can’t hide under the table and cry. Honestly, I’ve lost no sleep, I’m not disappointed. It’s on to what’s next. I’m telling Raptors fans and everybody, don’t lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep. We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to be alright.”
  • Don’t expect the next steps for the Raptors to involve an immediate tear-down. Sources tell Lewenberg that the team has no intention of moving veterans on expiring contracts – such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka – before the season. Of course, it’s possible that stance could change by the trade deadline if the Raps don’t have a great first half.
  • While there was a belief that Danny Green would lean toward re-signing with the Raptors and trying to defend their title if Leonard returned, that may not have been the case after all. According to Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (via Twitter), Green told the Mavericks that he wouldn’t be returning to Toronto, and his choice came down to the Lakers vs. the Mavs.

Kawhi Leonard Fallout: Clippers, Lakers, Raptors

After reaching deals late on Friday night to add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to their roster, the Clippers are the new favorites to win the 2019 NBA title, according to the oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag. Unlike in recent years – when Golden State was the overwhelming frontrunner – the Clippers are only currently a slight favorite over the Lakers and Bucks, but it’s still a remarkable turnaround for a team that looked 24 hours ago as if it might strike out entirely in free agency.

The acquisitions of Leonard and George show how far the Clippers have come this decade, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, who says the organization has “arrived” as a premier destination for star players.

Meanwhile, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets that Leonard and his camp found it “comical” that every report this week claiming to have identified Kawhi’s likely destination mentioned the Raptors or Lakers, but never the Clippers. While it’s not clear if the Clippers were always his No. 1 choice, Leonard reportedly worked hard this week to try to get George to join him in Los Angeles, as we detail in our round-up of PG13-related items.

Here are several more Kawh-related notes related to the two suitors that missed out on Leonard:

Lakers:

  • As of about two hours before Leonard chose the Clippers on Friday night, his camp was asking the Lakers to delay the Anthony Davis trade until late Saturday or Sunday, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, who tweets that no specific reason was given.
  • If Leonard had signed with the Lakers, he would have had to do so before the Davis trade was formally completed in order to maximize his earnings, since the AD deal would’ve cut into the Lakers’ cap room. So it’s possible he was leaving a Plan B available if the Clippers were unable to acquire George — for what it’s worth, the Clippers reportedly believed Kawhi would join the Lakers if they didn’t trade for PG13.
  • It didn’t help the Lakers’ cause that a ton of specific details about Magic Johnson‘s meeting with Leonard leaked to the media, tweets Cris Carter of Fox Sports 1. I doubt that was a deciding factor for Leonard and his camp, but Carter is plugged-in with Kawhi’s group, so if he’s hearing it, it seems likely to be coming from them.
  • Losing the waiting game for Leonard was a worst-case scenario for the Lakers, who missed out on a handful of potential targets during the first week of free agency as they pursued Kawhi, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic. The team has since pivoted by reaching deals with Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, and Quinn Cook.

Raptors:

  • Leonard told his Raptors teammates via text message that he was leaving just as the news was breaking late on Friday night, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link).
  • Losing Leonard – and starting shooting guard Danny Green – sets the Raptors on a new path, according to Blake Murphy of The Athletic, who explores what’s next for the franchise. While there will be calls to blow things up, Murphy suggests that the current Raptors should still be a playoff team, adding that Toronto may be reluctant to take on unwanted multiyear contracts in any trades, given how much money will come off its cap in 2020.
  • Chris Mannix of SI.com (Twitter link) speculates that the Raptors will explore potential trades of their veterans on expiring contracts – such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka – as they look ahead to building around young players like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.
  • Eric Koreen of The Athletic acknowledges that Masai Ujiri will likely gauge the value of his veterans on the trade market, but agrees with Murphy that the Raptors are more likely to keep their roster more or less intact in a transition year.

Raptors Notes: Leonard, Ibaka, Celtics, VanVleet

Tim Bontemps of ESPN recently wrote an in-depth piece on Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard, and while the entire piece is worth a read, several anecdotes stick out, particularly one involving Wizards veteran forward Trevor Ariza.

At some point between his freshman and sophomore seasons at San Diego State, Leonard received word that Ariza, already a six-year NBA veteran and NBA champion, would be working out on the Aztecs’ campus.

Leonard, always one to do whatever he can to be the best he can be, asked Ariza if he could take part in the veteran’s workouts. Ariza agreed, and was immediately impressed with Leonard’s talent and immeasurable work ethic.

“Man, my first impression of him was, this kid is here to work, period… No matter what… I prided myself on being there first person in all the time,” Ariza said. “And, when I got there, (Leonard) was already there. He’d done everything he needed to do, and he was ready to work out again… When I saw the work ethic he had, I knew he was going to be special.

Leonard was even able to win some one-on-one drills against the NBA veteran as a 19-year-old college sophomore-to-be, Ariza admits, telling ESPN that “(Leonard) was an NBA player when he was a freshman in college.

There’s more from Toronto this afternoon:

  • After an up-and-down season in which big man Serge Ibaka became a bench player for the first time since the 2010/11 season, his second in the NBA, Ibaka’s superb play in Game 4 of the NBA Finals was instrumental in the Raptors taking a commanding 3-1 lead against Warriors, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. Ibaka finished with 20 points, four rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
  • The Raptors remarkable run to the cusp of the franchise’s first NBA championship has to resonate painfully with the Celtics, where Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and company envisioned making a similar run, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. The biggest difference? Perhaps the gap between Leonard and Kyrie Irving is larger than we all realized.
  • While Fred VanVleet concedes that there is an increased mental focus and sense of responsibility that comes from the birth of your child, he denies the correlation between the birth of his son, Fred Jr., and his improved play in these playoffs, write Michael Lee and Dan Robson of The Athletic. Rather, Fred Sr. credits his own hard work and unbreakable confidence for helping him transform his game this postseason.

Atlantic Notes: Hayward, Baynes, Scott, Ibaka

Making a radio appearance today on Toucher & Rich in Boston, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge offered a pair of encouraging injury updates, as Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston details (via Twitter).

According to Ainge, Gordon Hayward is expected to suit up for the Celtics this weekend, either against Charlotte on Saturday or vs. San Antonio on Sunday. Hayward has missed the club’s last two games – both losses – due to a concussion.

Meanwhile, Aron Baynesankle injury may not be as serious as initially feared. According to the Celtics’ president, that ankle sprain is likely more of a day-to-day issue than an injury that will guarantee a multi-week absence. Still, the team will tread carefully, since it wants to have Baynes available for the postseason.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • The Sixers‘ ability to make a deep playoff run this spring figures to hinge on their starting five, given their lack of reliable depth. However, Mike Scott – acquired along with Tobias Harris from the Clippers last month – has been the club’s “most consistent and most versatile” reserve since arriving in Philadelphia, contends Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Scott, a free agent at season’s end, has averaged a career-high 23.2 minutes per contest, posting a .386 3PT% and handling a variety of defensive assignments for the 76ers.
  • Before making his return from a three-game suspension on Wednesday night for the Raptors, Serge Ibaka expressed regret over last week’s altercation with Cleveland’s Marquese Chriss. As Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca relays (via Twitter), Ibaka especially lamented the fine, which cost him about $448K. “I was thinking, man, you know how many people need that money?” Ibaka said. “Instead [of going after Chriss], I could have just said, you know, I’m not going to fight, and take that money and go do something for people that need it.”
  • With March Madness right around the corner, AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today makes the case for why the Knicks are the lottery team most in need of Zion Williamson this summer.
  • In case you missed it on Wednesday evening, we passed along a few more notes on the Knicks and the Celtics.

NBA Suspends Ibaka Three Games, Chriss One Game

Raptors center Serge Ibaka has been suspended for three games for his involvement in an on-court altercation on Monday night, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Cavaliers big man Marquese Chriss, who was also involved in the incident, will get a one-game suspension, according to Charania. The NBA has confirmed the news in a press release.

The incident in question occurred at the end of the third quarter in Monday’s Raptors/Cavs matchup. After Ibaka and Chriss got tied up going for an inbounds pass, Ibaka fell to the floor and Chriss said something to him as he walked away. Ibaka immediately got to his feet and went after Chriss, grabbing him by the neck and pushing him into the basket stanchion. Both players threw punches – though none really connected – before the fight was broken up.

According to the NBA’s announcement, Chriss received a one-game ban for throwing a punch, while Ibaka received the longer suspension because he instigated the fight and has a history of similar incidents. Ibaka has received a pair of one-game suspensions in the past for separate altercations with Heat forward James Johnson and Bulls center Robin Lopez.

Ibaka, who will begin serving his suspension on Thursday night vs. the Lakers, will also miss Sunday’s game at Detroit and next Monday’s game vs. New York. His suspension will cost him approximately $448K – 3/145ths of his $21,666,667 salary – and will save the Raptors about $560K in luxury-tax penalties at season’s end, notes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (via Twitter).

As for Chriss, he’ll serve his one-game suspension tonight when the Cavs play in Philadelphia. His lost wages will equal $22,111 — 1/145th of his $3,206,160 salary.

Raptors Notes: Roster Balance, Leonard, Ibaka

Speaking to Joshua Clipperton of The Canadian Press (link via Sportsnet.ca), former NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledged that the NBA’s move to Vancouver was one of the failures of his tenure. However, he said that he views the Raptors – Canada’s other 1995 expansion team – as a “great success” and says the idea that players don’t want to land in Toronto is outdated and died long ago.

“Toronto has the most wonderful array of sports assets and a cosmopolitan community and a great building,” Stern said. “It’s a pleasure to see that it is a destination city that players want to go to.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • The Raptors’ summer blockbuster with the Spurs allowed Toronto to replace two non-shooters with two quintessential three-and-D wings in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Now, the rotation is loaded with versatile three-and-D players and the Raptors’ roster looks like a model for other teams to emulate, writes Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer.
  • Speaking of Leonard, Blake Murphy of The Athletic takes an early look at the relationship between the star forward and his new team, a topic that will get more and more attention as Kawhi’s 2019 free agency nears. As Murphy observes, the Raptors don’t want to put a full-court recruiting press on Leonard all season, preferring to let the team’s success be the primary selling point. With an 11-1 record so far, Toronto is off to a good start in that regard.
  • Serge Ibaka has reversed some worrying trends so far this season and looks like a rejuvenated player. Frank Urbina of HoopsHype explores what changed for Ibaka and whether those improvements are sustainable.
  • In other Raptors news, Norman Powell is expected to miss the next four to six weeks with a shoulder injury, as we relayed earlier this week.

And-Ones: Long, LiAngelo Ball, Spain

Ex-Sixers forward Shawn Long has signed a contract with New Zealand Breakers, according to a Sportando report. Long played 18 games with Philadelphia in 2016/2017, averaging 8.2 PPG and 4.7 RPG in 13 MPG. He toiled in the G League last season with the Delaware 87ers, averaging 14.6 PPG and 7.7 RPG in 33 games following a seven-game stint in China. The Timberwolves took a look at Long during a free agent mini-camp in June.

We have more from around the pro basketball world:

Atlantic Rumors: Gaines, Nurse, Celtics, Knox

Clarence Gaines Jr. is no longer with the Knicks’ organization, Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic reports. Gaines was the team’s VP of player personnel under former team president Phil Jackson, who credited Gaines for lobbying to select Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 lottery. Gaines did scouting for the current regime last season. Several newcomers have been hired by the front office and Gaines did not have strong ties to GM Scott Perry, Ian Begley of ESPN notes. Gaines’ contract expired after last season.

In other developments around the Atlantic Division:

  • Challenging DeMar DeRozan to become a better defender is just one of the things new Raptors coach Nick Nurse has in mind for next season, Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun writes. Nurse is trying to devise ways to play two smaller guards, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, together and still minimize the issues that it presents defending pick-and-rolls, Wolstat continues. Playing Serge Ibaka more often at center is another wrinkle Nurse plans to employ, Wolstat adds.
  • The Celtics are planning to hold onto their $8.641MM mid-level exception for the balance of the offseason, Keith Smith of RealGM tweets. Their priority is to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Smart and Jabari Bird and see what develops during the season, Smith adds.
  • Strong summer-league showings by first-round pick Kevin Knox and second-rounder Mitchell Robinson have made the Knicks look wise in their selections, ESPN’s Andre Snellings writes. Knox should jump right into the Knicks’ starting lineup at small forward, while Robinson could eventually work his way into the rotation. While neither player shows superstar potential, they both have skill sets that should translate to the league, Snellings adds.
  • The Nets have positioned themselves to make a big splash next summer, Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype notes. They can create enough salary-cap room to sign two first-tier free agents to go along with two first-round picks, provided that the protections on the pick the Nuggets sent them don’t kick in.
  • Knicks coach David Fizdale will head off to Latvia on July 22nd to visit with Porzingis and check on his progress from knee surgery, Marc Berman of the New York Post reports.

Raptors Not Sold On Ibaka/Valanciunas Pairing

Neither Jonas Valanciunas nor Serge Ibaka came off the bench for the Raptors once during the 2017/18 season, with Ibaka serving as the club’s full-time starting four while Valaciunas started at the five. However, the Raptors still aren’t sold on the Valanciunas/Ibaka pairing in their frontcourt, since they believe both players are most effective as centers, team sources tell Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

Lewenberg reiterates what has been reported several times since the end of the season, indicating that no one on the Raptors’ roster is untouchable in trade talks this offseason. So both Ibaka and Valanciunas could find themselves on the block in the coming days or weeks.

Of the two, the Raptors would likely prefer to move on from Ibaka, who has the more expensive contract and is coming off a disappointing postseason. Ibaka, who struggled with consistency from beyond the arc and on the defensive end, will earn $21.67MM in 2018/19 and $23.27MM in 2019/20.

Valanciunas, on the other hand, was once considered the Raptors’ most obvious trade candidate, but he expanded his game in 2017/18, playing improved defense and even flashing a three-point shot — the veteran center knocked down 30 threes last year after having made one in his first five seasons. He’s also slightly more affordable, with a $16.54MM cap hit in 2018/19 and a $17.62MM player option for 2019/20.

While there’s no guarantee that either player is traded this summer, the Raptors will be looking to cut costs somewhere in order to re-sign Fred VanVleet without going deep into luxury-tax territory, and youngsters Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl could be ready to handle more minutes up front.

Ibaka and Valanciunas are the third- and fourth-highest-paid players on the roster, making them prime trade candidates if Toronto is reluctant to move star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Norman Powell and C.J. Miles could also be trade chips.

Eastern Notes: Raptors, Gilgeous-Alexander, Winslow

While we’ve heard a couple times already this offseason that the Raptors are open for business and won’t make anyone on their roster untouchable in trade talks, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca notes that the team may be especially focused on shaking up the “top end of its top-heavy roster.”

That could mean that a player like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, or Serge Ibaka is on the move in the coming days or weeks, since those four players are on track to earn nearly $100MM in 2018/19. For what it’s worth, one source told Grange that he believes at least one of the Raptors’ big – or “medium” – three won’t be back next season, referring to Lowry, DeRozan, and Ibaka.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference as we wait for the 2018 NBA draft to get underway:

  • ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggests that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t interested in playing for the Cavaliers, reporting that Gilgeous-Alexander refused to work out for Cleveland and made a point to tell the team he didn’t want to be there (Twitter link). The Kentucky point guard is considered a candidate to come off the board in the top 10.
  • The Heat, who have explored the possibility of trading back into the draft, have made Justise Winslow available in their discussions, tweets Jake Fischer of SI.com. Like the Raptors, the Heat have suggested no one on their roster will be off-limits this summer, so that doesn’t come as a real surprise.
  • The Pistons are making a “hard push” to hire Bucks assistant Sean Sweeney for Dwane Casey‘s new staff in Detroit, league sources tell Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link). Stein notes that Sweeney has worked as closely with Giannis Antetokounmpo as any coach in Milwaukee.