In a move that could alter the landscape of the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors traded Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round pick to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka.
As the Magic’s season slid continually south, they began to lose faith that they would retain Ibaka as an unrestricted free agent this summer. In trading him, they moved on from this past summer’s big acquisition and launched another iteration of the rebuilding process since trading away Dwight Howard.
Given that Orlando traded Victor Oladipo and a lottery pick (Domantas Sabonis) for Ibaka at the draft, many see this as a loss for the Magic. But you can’t really judge trades in the aggregate. One move doesn’t always link to the next that easily. The Magic chose to move on from Ibaka and recoup what they could.
Terrence Ross will give the Magic shooting they sorely lack. He’s a true wing, of which the Orlando roster is in short order. Ross should be a nice partner for Evan Fournier on the wing and help to open up the defense for other players to get work done inside.
Not to be missed, this deal opens the door for Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. First, and most importantly, this trade puts Aaron Gordon back at power forward, where he probably belonged all along. Gordon and Orlando have tried to make it work with him at small forward all season, but it has been a disaster. All of Gordon’s athletic advantages are negated going against small forwards. Early indications are the Gordon will move back to be a full time 4 and that should allow him the chance to blossom into the player many thought he would be.
As for Payton, adding a shooter in the starting lineup should open things up for him to return to his starting role. With better floor spacing, Payton should be able to attack off the dribble and get into the paint. This will allow him to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Ross is under contract this year for $10 million and the next two seasons for $10.5 million apiece. That is a fair contract for a player of his ability. The Magic also can open up north of $14 million in cap space this summer by renouncing all of their free agents, which was unlikely to happen had they still had Ibaka. Adding a solid player and a first round pick for a player who was likely to leave for nothing is good work, even if what led to it wasn’t great.
Grade for Orlando: B+
With the recent news of Kevin Love being out for at least six weeks and their slide in the standings, the Raptors went all-in on this season by acquiring Ibaka. Power forward has been a longtime hole for Toronto. They tried to fill it this summer by signing Jared Sullinger, but he’s been both hurt and ineffective. Patrick Patterson is a good player, but too much usage can lead to him missing time and also being ineffective. Everyone else on the Toronto roster is masquerading as a power forward, when they are best suited to play elsewhere.
At least for the rest of this season, that is no longer a problem. Ibaka will give the Raptors the ability to stretch the floor on offense, while also providing some shot blocking and rebounding. He’s almost an ideal fit next to Jonas Valanciunas up front.
Trading Ross opens up a hole off the bench for a shooter, but Toronto can address that with another trade or on the buyout market. They also freed up consistent minutes for Norman Powell, who brings a defensive element they are sometimes missing.
This summer things project to get really expensive for the Raptors. Kyle Lowry is a free agent and will almost certainly demand a max contract. Early projections have the deal as five years and $207 million. That is the price of doing business for a top tier All-Star point guard and Toronto will have to pay it. Ibaka is also a free agent and the Raptors acquired him with eyes on keeping him long term. He’s likely to command a deal around $20 million annually, which will give Toronto one of the most expensive rosters in the league.
Masai Ujiri can worry about all that this summer. For this season, he’s struck a major move to put Toronto in the contender position. They are probably still a step behind Cleveland, but if Kevin Love can’t make it back, the Raptors have as good a shot as any to take their place atop the Eastern Conference.
Grade for Toronto: A