Terrence Ross Could Benefit Most From The Serge Ibaka Trade

The NBA saw another major deal go down today, when the Toronto Raptors sent wing Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick to the Orlando Magic in exchange for power forward Serge Ibaka. As strong an acquisition as Ibaka is, Ross could wind up benefitting the most from heading to the Sunshine State.

Now, the deal is an absolute winner for Toronto because the team desperately needs help at the power forward position. Rookie Pascal Siakam has averaged just 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds over 17 minutes per game. Veteran Patrick Patterson has fared slightly better in posting 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds, but has shot just 38.5% from the field. Jared Sullinger, whom GM Masai Ujiri inked to a one-year, $5.6 million deal last summer, has played in just 11 games and averaged only 10.7 minutes due to slow recovery from a knee injury.

Enter Ibaka, who posted 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the Magic after being acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder during last year's NBA Draft. He is 27 years old, can be a defensive force and is basically a rental for the Raptors. They will pay what remains of his $12.25 million salary, per Spotrac, and re-signing with the team could be in the cards depending on how he performs in games leading up to and during the postseason.

Ross, on the other hand, is the more interesting player in the deal. A former first-round pick out of Washington, the 26-year-old is perhaps best known for winning the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest in his rookie year. As a player under coach Dwane Casey the past couple of years, he has settled into a role as a bench shooter. Ross is averaging 10.4 points over 22.4 minutes per game this year and is shooting 37.5% from three-point range. That's not at all bad considering his $10 million salary, which is an arguable bargain for a player of his type in a league with a rising salary cap.

Ross can expect more opportunities in Orlando, despite the team currently ranking last in the Southeast Division. Aaron Gordon should shift from the wing to power forward with Ibaka gone and second-year man Mario Hezonja is not ready to be a starter. Ross certainly has the talent to provide some extra scoring from the wing if given extended minutes. His per 36 minutes scoring average is 16.7 points, a great improvement over what has come to be expected of him, and Ross should also help take some of the pressure off of shooting guard and Magic leading scorer Evan Fournier.

This is exactly why Magic GM Rob Hennigan is the true winner of the trade. He knew Ibaka was of no use to a last place team and instead sent him to a contender willing to pay a high price for his services. In exchange, Orlando now receives a first-round pick on top of the one it already possesses and a player under team control for the next two seasons at a bargain price. Ross's current deal, signed in 2015, is worth $31.5 million over three years and took effect this season. He will earn $10.5 million over the last two years of the contract.

Terrence Ross's being traded for Serge Ibaka could wind up doing wonders for his career. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Trade Grades: Serge Ibaka Deal Adds Raptors To East Arms Race

Another contender has joined the Cavaliers in the East’s developing arms race thanks to one of the league’s most aimless rebuilding franchises.

Toronto has agreed to acquire power forward Serge Ibaka from Orlando in exchange for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick, according to Yahoo Sports. The Raptors will convey to the Magic the less desirable of their two first-round picks (their own and one belonging to the Clippers), which should land in the mid-20s.

Let’s grade the trade.

Toronto Raptors: B+

Raptors acquire: Serge Ibaka

The Raptors, fresh off the first trip to the East finals in franchise history, needed a midseason boost as badly as any aspiring contender in recent memory. They’re 0–7 against the Cavaliers, Warriors and Spurs this season. Their below-average defense has shown precious little progress. Longstanding frontcourt holes have lingered and coach Dwane Casey had exhausted the Titanic’s deck chair configurations. Most notably, the strain of a recent losing streak led guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to start chirping for roster help.

Toronto GM Masai Ujiri faced pressure to “buy” on numerous fronts: to live up to last year’s expectations, to keep up with the Cavaliers who added Kyle Korver last month, to improve his lineup versatility, to stop the backsliding in the East standings from No. 2 to No. 5, to prove to Lowry that they were committed to contention in advance of his summer free agency, and to make the most of the Lowry/DeRozan tandem during their prime years.

While he isn’t as desirable as Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, another player the Raptors were linked to in rumors, Ibaka (15.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG) should help on multiple fronts. Most obviously, he plugs in as a ready-made starting power forward, taking over from the likes of Pascal Siakam (a rookie who means well but isn’t ready for postseason primetime), Patrick Patterson (an ideal second-unit big), and Jared Sullinger (an injury-plagued off-season addition who was sent down to the D-League last month).

A three-time All-Defensive First Team selection during his time in Oklahoma City, Ibaka didn’t have a transformative defensive impact during his short stint in Orlando. Despite attempting to build their defense from the inside-out around Ibaka, the Magic’s defensive efficiency ranking actually slipped back into the bottom-10 this season, and Ibaka’s block rate decreased for the fifth straight season.

Nevertheless, he represents a major upgrade over Toronto’s existing personnel, and he’s better suited to play a defined role on a veteran-dominated roster—like his role with the Thunder—rather than a leading role for a young rebuilding team. When lineups downsize late in postseason games, Ibaka can shift from the four to the five, allowing Casey to construct lineups with Patterson and Ibaka that maximize spacing for his guards without sacrificing his interior defense. Prior to the Ibaka trade, the Raptors were checkmated by the Cavaliers’ smaller looks, as Jonan Valanciunas’s offensive acumen was offset by his defensive limitations and Bebe Nogueira’s defensive length was counteracted by his limited offensive repertoire. With Ibaka, Toronto finally has a balanced answer.

Offensively, Ibaka should add some stretch to Toronto’s attack, manning the corners so that Lowry and DeRozan are free to attack in one-on-one situations. Underqualified as a lead option due to his lack of playmaking ability, Ibaka is accustomed to life as a safety valve, whether that’s finishing dump-offs around the basket or keeping defenses honest from mid-range. He should be fully motivated during the Raptors’ stretch run, as he’s no longer stuck with the going-nowhere Magic and he’s playing for a pay day in advance of his first taste of unrestricted free agency this summer. At 27 and with knee surgery in his past, Ibaka’s statistical slippage is concerning, but he’s only missed one game this season and Toronto will be able to test-drive him before they buy.

While early indications suggest Toronto will try to re-sign Ibaka this summer, that’s a problem for another day. Locking into a Lowry/DeRozan/Ibaka core at huge contract numbers isn’t especially enticing, and Toronto must first see whether this group can claw its way through an East second-tier that has looked stronger in recent months. But even if Ibaka leaves for nothing this summer, Ujiri made the right call in pursuing him as a rental and he did well to avoid parting with any major assets to get it done.

Finally, moving Ross also opens a bigger role for Norman Powell, a solid two-way contributor who, as a 2015 second-round pick, earns less than one-tenth of Ross’s salary. The Raptors therefore achieved much better positional balance, added a veteran with loads of playoff experience, and addressed their biggest weakness without emptying their cupboard of assets. This counts as a clean, logical, and well-timed move, even if the onus remains on Ibaka to prove he can still be a major game-changer like he was earlier in his career.

Orlando Magic: B

Magic acquire: Terrence Ross and a first-round pick

As noted last summer, the Magic made their big mistake in trading for Ibaka in the first place. This trade doesn’t fully undo the damage of the move that sent Victor Oladipo and 2016 lottery pick Domantas Sabonis to the Thunder, but it does count as a reasonable salvage effort. Unfortunately, GMs only get a limited number losing exchanges like this, and Orlando’s Rob Hennigan has more than exhausted his fair share.

In the macro sense, Hennigan gets an “F” for backing himself into a corner and being forced to part with Ibaka to avoid an embarrassing free-agency departure come July. Strictly on the terms of this deal and its implications, though, he did all right.

Ross (10.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG) is a proven three-point shooter with off-the-charts athleticism and streaky scoring ability who found himself smothered a bit in Toronto’s deep wing rotation. There are only so many shots and touches to go around on a team built around Lowry and DeRozan, and he’s a safe bet to put up bigger numbers in an enhanced role in Orlando. “I think me being a shooter will help them out a lot and I'm looking forward to my new role,” Ross told SI.com on Tuesday shortly after the trade. “They have talent and I just want to bring my experience to help out as much as I can.”

Indeed, the Magic’s offense ranks 29th this season—the team’s fifth straight year in the bottom 10—and terrible spacing has been a fatal flaw. Moving Ibaka for Ross will shift promising third-year forward Aaron Gordon back to the four, a change SI.com advocated for last week, and it will allow coach Frank Vogel to, get this, trot out lineups with multiple perimeter shooters at the same time. Orlando’s attack still needs significantly more work, but Ross represents a step in the right direction and he arrives on a reasonable contract ($10 million this season and $10.5 million in each of the next two seasons). He can shift between either wing spot, as lineup combinations require, and he can function with or without the ball.

Giving up on Ibaka also helps clear a frontcourt logjam with Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. While Orlando surely hoped that Ibaka would emerge as a franchise player and leader of an elite defense—making one of the other two big men expendable—that just didn’t materialize. With zero reason to believe Ibaka would spend the rest of his dwindling prime by re-signing with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012, admitting the mistake and attempting to reverse it was the best of Hennigan’s bad options.

Getting a starting-caliber wing, even one trying to push past a reputation for inconsistency, is more than a party favor for a team that ranks 28th in three-point percentage. As for the pick, it would be easier to get excited if it was higher up the board and if the Magic’s recent track record of drafting and developing players wasn’t so abysmal. But it still counts for something.

Magic trade Serge Ibaka to Toronto for draft pick, Terrence Ross

The Orlando Magic zigged last summer when other teams zagged.

As the rest of the NBA embraced small ball, the Magic acquired power forward Serge Ibaka in a blockbuster draft-night trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder and signed center Bismack Biyombo in free agency. Magic officials wanted to play two big men simultaneously in a three-person big-man rotation that also included incumbent center Nikola Vucevic.

The strategy failed miserably.

On Tuesday, the Magic ended that experiment. They traded Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors for swingman Terrence Ross and the less favorable of the Raptors’ two 2017 first-round picks.

“I think as we've watched our team play over the course of the season, clearly something’s amiss,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. “And we’re all frustrated by the way our team’s performed to date, and we felt like it was necessary to try to shake things up somehow, someway.”

Magic officials concluded that they had to trade Ibaka before the Feb. 23 NBA trade deadline or risk losing him for nothing in free agency in July. Ibaka gave the Magic no assurances that he intended to re-sign with them.

The Raptors attempted to acquire Ibaka last June in a trade with the Thunder. But the Thunder instead chose the Magic’s more lucrative offer of guard Victor Oladipo, power forward Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to the 11th overall pick, Domantas Sabonis.

In hindsight, the Magic paid too high a price to acquire Ibaka, even though he averaged 15.1 points per game and made 38.8 percent of his 3-pointers.

Ibaka was supposed to be one of the Magic’s defensive linchpins, and yet he didn’t make the impact team officials had hoped for. He averaged just 1.6 blocks per game — the second-lowest average of his career. Part of the issue was that opposing power forwards pulled him far from the hoop, negating his shot-blocking ability. But he also isn’t as mobile or as explosive as he used to be.

Ross, 26, came off the Raptors’ bench over the last year and a half. He is a superb athlete who also is a career 37.6 percent shooter from 3-point range.

Ross has two more full seasons remaining on a contract that will pay him $10.5 million per season.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Ross told the Orlando Sentinel he looks forward to playing for the Magic.

“They have a nice, young core group of talent, and I think with the right work ethic and the right support behind us, I feel like that team can do a lot of great things in the future,” Ross said. “I’m excited to be a part of that. All of this is just new and exciting for me, so I’m ready to venture out and kind of take the next step.”

With Ibaka gone, Magic coach Frank Vogel likely will play Aaron Gordon more often at power forward, a position where many NBA scouts and at least some members of the Magic hierarchy think Gordon is best suited.

“I think we’ll certainly look at that and try that,” Hennigan said. “That’ll be Frank’s call, ultimately, but it’s something that Frank and I have been discussing and certainly discussed even more today. So I think we’ll see some of that.”

The Magic own a 21-36 record and trail the Eastern Conference’s eighth-place team by 5½ games.

Hennigan and team officials thought the offseason additions of Ibaka, Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin would bring the Magic closer to postseason contention.

On Tuesday, Hennigan said trading for Ibaka had been “a calculated risk” that was worth taking because the Magic had deficiencies in their frontcourt and because Oladipo and Evan Fournier played the same position.

“I applaud our aggressiveness,” Hennigan said when asked about the original trade that brought Ibaka to Orlando.

“Sometimes things don’t work out as you plan, and I think it’s important to be proactive and try to rectify that, too, once you realize it’s not working.”

The Magic entered Tuesday ranked 25th in field-goal percentage defense.

“We don’t think we’re that far away,” Hennigan said. “We really don’t. We think we’re a few tweaks away. We have to add to the team, but we believe in the young players we have.

“I think clearly as we’ve watched the team, something is not clicking,” he added. “It’s hard to sometimes pinpoint exactly what that is. But I think obviously when a team is not experiencing the success that you expect, there are some intangible components that go into that. So our hope is that this makes us better with our skill set. Our hope is that this can help rally our team and potentially find some added or improved chemistry or whatever you want to call it.”

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