Reviewing the Blockbuster OKC-Magic Trade
*Photo via Deadspin
Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder made waves by trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for three pieces; Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the 11th pick in last night’s draft, Domantas Sabonis, a forward out of Gonzaga. This trade comes as a huge risk to both teams, with OKC a week away from Kevin Durant’s impending free agency and a year away from Russell Westbrook’s, and with Orlando mortgaging a lot of it’s future by trading former #2 overall pick in Oladipo for 26 year old Serge Ibaka in a likely win-now move for the franchise.
*photo via Getty Images
First and foremost, to evaluate this trade from the Thunder side, you have to look at the Ibaka situation objectively and from a broad standpoint. Ibaka is coming off a year where he regressed pretty heavily, and wasn’t thrilled with his role as somebody who would set screens and stand in the corners waiting for an opportunity at a corner three. He was invisible and virtually unnecessary in the playoff series against the Spurs, and then became a necessity against Golden State with his ability to play on the perimeter while still being able to recover and protect the rim. But, considering what Thunder coach Billy Donovan wants to do with his offense, Ibaka was likely in for another frustrating year and would have almost certainly made way for nothing next summer, in order for OKC to re-sign promising center Steven Adams. For the Thunder it really came down to three options:
1.Take a chance and hope that he stays or that you win a title in his and Westbrook’s last contract years, or risk losing him for nothing.
2.Trade him near the deadline, where his value would almost certainly have decreased due to his productivity or the fact that teams would be hesitant to take what would amount to be a six-month rental.
3.Trade him now, with a year left on his contract and his value relatively intact.
Considering everything that’s happened, OKC came away with an incredible haul for Ibaka. Oladipo is a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions while providing a secondary ball-handler that they’ve lacked since James Harden, Someone to run the offense with the bench, or to help create opportunities when the Westbrook/Durant ran offenses start to stall, as they do for a stretch of the vast majority of their games. He also makes Waiters expendable, though the Thunder would love to have him back. It prevents an Enes Kanter-type scenario from playing out this offseason, where last year the Blazers stared OKC in the face and offered Kanter a max-contract, forcing OKC to match or lose him for nothing (considering they dumped Reggie Jackson for him, them matching was almost a certainty). All it takes is one team to value a restricted free agent differently than the other 29 teams and it forces a GM to make a tough call.
*Photo via USA Today
Ersan Ilyasova can shoot the three-ball, providing the stretch 4 role Ibaka played on offense last year, just without the rim protection. The Thunder like him, and he will almost assuredly be on the roster for this upcoming season. Sabonis is an interesting prospect that can score both inside and outside the paint, while providing solid rebounding. OKC has drafted well in the Presti era, so there is no reason to doubt his talent evaluation on him, even if it means clogging the front-court rotation a little bit.
My guess is that (assuming KD re-ups with a two-year contract with a one-year out while Dion Waiters leaves), Donovan will come out with a lineup of Russ, Oladipo, Roberson, Durant, and Adams. This is a strong defensive lineup that can put up a ton of points, with Oladipo as the third scorer. It also allows for Enes Kanter to play the role of sixth man (and probably get more minutes than Roberson anyways), while being able to dominate bench bigs or give fresh legs against the beat up big men already on the court. Cameron Payne will have to step up as the backup point guard, and his development will be closely watched, as it will be key for OKC taking that next step in the Western Conference. If Waiters and KD stay, Waiters could be inserted for Roberson—giving Donovan his own version of a Death Lineup—or he could play alongside Kanter to provide a secondary ball-handler when Westbrook and Oladipo take breaks, while providing solid bench scoring and defense. This would ultimately make OKC 8-9 deep with Sabonis, and—in my mind—makes them the best team in the West (of course, free agency will decide where the chess pieces fall and change everything). But, I love the return OKC got and they have to be excited about it.
How this affects Durant’s decision this summer obviously cannot be evaluated until he actually makes a decision, but my guess is that it certainly helps. Durant and OKC have always liked Oladipo, with KD once describing him as a Dwyane Wade type player and OKC having tried hard to trade up to draft him at #2 in the 2013 NBA Draft. While Ibaka was an ever-present piece and the third wheel post-Harden, him and Durant never had the relationship that would make KD re-evaluate the Thunder. Overall, this trade makes OKC a better, deeper basketball team, and to grab the value that they did for a player most likely leaving next season speaks volumes, as people were wondering if you could even get a top-10 pick for Ibaka in the week or so leading up to the draft. It also helps prepare the team for the departure of their superstars, as sustained success is the Thunder model, and this move has helped them prepare for that.
*Photo via Clutchpoints
I like this move for Orlando, even if they did give up a lot more than they probably could have. Vogel loves running a team through a rim protector, and now he has his guy. Ibaka can thrive under Vogel, and become a full-fledged star as opposed to just another cog or a third-wheel guy. This move creates somewhat of a logjam at the forward positions for Orlando, but will allow them to play versatile lineups and allow second-year man Mario Hezonja to get minutes and evolve his game. Ibaka makes Nikola Vucevic a better player, because the big man—while being a great rebounder and very good post-player, is a defensive liability.
I can see Orlando coming out with a lineup similar to the Thunder in that they will be long at every position. Elfrid Payton, Hezonja, Fournier, Ibaka, and Vucevic is a very good, very athletic lineup, that could also see Fournier switched for Aaron Gordon as a 6-9 small-forward. Ibaka will space the floor to allow Vucevic more room to operate under the basket on offense, and Hezonja room to operate around the three-point line or in the mid-range. This can be an incredibly tough defensive team, especially with Vogel at the helm, and can almost certainly be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference now that they have a player with the two-way caliber of Ibaka.
A major problem with Ibaka last season became him stepping out to the three-point line. He evolved into what was essentially a shooting guard, with Andre Roberson playing a power forward role and cutting to the basket. The problem for Ibaka was that, while he was an effective shooter from outside, his midrange game that he thrived in for OKC the last few years became less and less of a threat. He never really learned how to cut into space, pump-fake and drive, or any effective post moves.
*Photo via Getty Images
I’m not sure how exactly this move helps or hinders Gordon until Vogel gets some time in and figures out his best lineups, but he can operate as a big small forward next to Ibaka and Vucevic, as a power forward in a smaller lineup with Ibaka/Vucevic at the 5 and Fournier (no slouch at 6’7’’ tall) at the 3.
Ultimately, this trade won’t be judged for a few years, with Ibaka a free agent next summer he could easily bolt for a contender and leave Orlando with a huge dilemma. But, for now, it appears as if the Magic have a solid roster and a young core that can make some noise in the East.