Kyle Lowry said something had to change in Toronto. Serge Ibaka is on his way to try to make that happen.
The Raptors acquired the veteran power forward from Orlando on Tuesday for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round draft pick.
Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan said Tuesday evening the trade of Ibaka for Ross was necessary for the Magic to have a chance of salvaging a season that has gone drastically off course.
The Raptors made the move with the postseason and possible championship run in mind.
“Any time you can add a talent who has got playoff experience, (NBA) Finals experience, and a defender and two-way player like Ibaka has got to give us a boost,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Tuesday night in Chicago before the Raptors-Bulls game. “Ibaka fills a huge need.
“His style of play fits our style of play. … There’s nothing we’re doing that he hasn’t seen before. It won’t take him long to pick up the terminology.”
Toronto started the day in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, having lost 10 of its previous 14 games. The latest ugly performance came on Sunday when the Raptors gave up a 16-point lead to start the fourth quarter and lost to the Detroit Pistons.
After the game, Lowry didn’t pull any punches on the state of a team that made the Eastern Conference finals last season but has lost to the Magic twice, the Pistons, Timberwolves and Suns during this latest swoon.
“Keep getting in the same situations over and over and not being successful,” Lowry said after the 102-101 loss. “Something’s got to give, something’s got to change.”
Casey has said all season long that the something is defense. Toronto ranks 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.2 points per 100 possessions. The coach knows that won’t be close to good enough when they get into the playoffs to try to build off of last year’s run to the Eastern Conference finals.
“Like most players, he has migrated out on the perimeter, so his shot-blocking and rebounding (numbers) are down a little bit,” Casey said of Ibaka. “But there’s a lot of difference positions he can play for us.
“He can play close to the basket, because he’s smart and versatile. There are situations that he could possibly play the 5 for us if we do go small. He gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Ibaka averaged 15.1 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Magic this season. He has long been considered a rugged defensive power forward, and has experience making deep playoff runs with the Thunder. He will be a free agent this summer after being acquired from Oklahoma City on draft night last summer for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the first-round draft pick that became Domantas Sabonis.
Now Ibaka will slide between DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas in the Raptors frontcourt, a significant upgrade for Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who has long been a fan of Ibaka’s defensive tenacity and ability to stretch the floor on offense.
The Raptors parted with Ross, who is in the first year of a three-year, $31 million contract, and a pick to get the deal done. Ross averaged 10.4 points and 2.6 rebounds, but the high flier has never been able to provide Toronto with the consistency they were looking for from him.
“I think if you watch our team play there is no secret that we struggle to make shots and I think his ability can do just that,” said Hennigan, who still believes his team has a shot at making the Eastern Conference playoffs despite a 21-36 record. Ross’ “play, his age and his contract are all things we feel are positives and strengths for us.”
The Magic made the move in part to try to get something back for Ibaka before risking losing him on the open market this summer. Hennigan made the deal with OKC on draft night in hopes that Ibaka’s defense and veteran leadership would help a team with a young core including Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton.
But Orlando created a logjam in the frontcourt with Ibaka, Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo, and pieces just never fit together. The Magic have the second-worst record in the East.
Raptors guard Norman Powell, who is expected to have an expanded role in Toronto with Ross’ departure, said his former teammate is looking forward to his new role with the Magic.
“I talked to (Ross) and he’s excited for the opportunity he has” in Orlando, Powell said.
With Ross joining the team, the Magic can now shift Gordon back to his more natural power forward spot, leaving Evan Fournier and Ross to play the wing positions in coach Frank Vogel’s scheme.
“I think we will certainly look at that and try that, but that will be Frank’s call ultimately,” said Hennigan, who hopes Ross will be in uniform Wednesday night against the Spurs. “But it’s something that Frank and I have been discussing and certainly discussed even more today.”