With the Bucks looking to improve in the short term, where does that leave the Raptors in the Eastern Conference?

That’s an interesting question as the NBA kicks off what could be a frantic free agency weekend Friday night at 6:00 p.m. ET

Much has been said about Toronto Raptors culture over the past few seasons as the team gradually rose from good to elite to championship status

Kyle Lowry has, for all the right reasons, been recognized as the locomotive that pushed and brought out a franchise out of irrelevance at the center of the league

And Fred VanVleet has established himself as the perfect addition to anything the Raptors do on both ends of the floor, with the story of his rise from undrafted to highly-rated free agent being part of it. of the franchise tradition

In each of these examples, Raptors president Masai Ujiri did well by the player – Lowry and Siakam getting max or near-max bids and VanVleet poised to win in himself

No one on the Raptor roster – with the possible exception of Norm Powell – has made more sacrifices and had to keep their ego in check more than Ibaka while ensuring high-level production without which the team would be lost

During their championship season, the multitalented big man was riding as the starter of a team playing at a rate of 58 wins when the Raptors pulled the trigger on the deal that earned them Marc Gasol

The idea that the starting roles would switch regularly based on the clashes was the subject of lip service, but when the game resumed after the star break, Ibaka’s days as a that starter in Toronto were essentially finished, although his production never faltered

Last season, Ibaka’s contributions were even greater as the Raptors set a franchise record for winning percentage – playing at a 60-win pace throughout the interrupted 72-game season by the pandemic

On a 36-minute basis, he averaged 205 points, 11 rebounds and 19 assists – all career highs – while converting nearly five threes per game at 39%

Gasol’s presence was intermittent, limited to 44 regular-season games due to injury before the season was cut short on March 11, and his performance was equally patchy

Even for a player whose contributions didn’t necessarily correlate with box scoring, Gasol’s offensive contributions were limited – a career low 427% from floor and only 75 points per game, also a low in career – and were non-existent in the playoffs when he had only collected six points per game on 391% of shooting, even slightly guarded, if at all

But Gasol remained the undisputed starter to head coach Nick Nurse and Ibaka came on to relieve the ball – no small sacrifice for an 11-year-old veteran in a year of contract with a championship ring and 144 games. career playoffs on his CV

Even as Ibaka put up 148 points per game on 573 percent of playoff shooting, he came off the bench for 228 minutes per game compared to Gasol, who started and played 207 minutes through his struggles

Those close to Ibaka admit his role grated at him at times, but he never let it become a problem

“The value he provided didn’t match his minutes it’s fair to say,” a league source said. “He’s 11 in the league, but his role changed often

Yet even as free agency approaches, much of the discussion about the Raptors’ plans has centered on VanVleet – “I think we’ve said that publicly, privately, and all. manners He’s our top priority, ”was Webster’s comment earlier this week – with barely a word on Ibaka (or Gasol, but after his performance fell off a cliff into the bubble, the club are at ease. with him in search of a richer NBA deal than the modest one-year contract they are prepared to enter into)

Now is the time for the Raptors to show the kind of respect Ibaka has earned and should have received before

It will be fascinating to watch, and there is a lot to do Imagine the Raptors trying to compete for a title with a diminished Gasol and Chris Boucher (a restricted free agent) as their big starters?

Working for the Raptors is that it’s a tight free agent market anyway – in part because of the salary cap which remains stable at $ 109 million as a result of the pandemic – and it’s a buyer’s market for the size of veterans , according to your preferences, with Hassan Whiteside, Tristan Thompson, Robin Lopez and Aron Baynes, as well as Ibaka and Gasol all looking for offers

But of those available, Ibaka – still only 31 – ticks a lot of the boxes as a robust defender, improving playmaker and a reliable pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll option. His growing reputation as a as long as a positive presence in the dressing rooms of the veterans is another attribute

There’s a reason his name has been associated with teams that plan to win a title in 2020-21: the Brooklyn Nets, where he could team up with old friend Kevin Durant, or the Los Angeles Lakers. , where he could air the floor for LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Of the two, the Lakers might be more of a threat as they can offer the full mid-tier, which starts at $ 9-26 million and can run four years with five percent annual increases, for a total of $ 39 8 million

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The Nets can only offer taxpayers a mid-level exception, which starts at $ 5-7 million and can last three years with increases of 5% for a total of $ 18 million

Given that Ibaka is arguably coming off his best season and a three-year, $ 65 million contract, it seems inconceivable that he will accept what Brooklyn has to offer

The bet is that the Raptors will try to sell Ibaka on a hefty one-year contract that doesn’t complicate their salary cap image in the future, recognizes what Ibaka can still bring and – with Gasol being out of the box. image, or in a lesser role – allows Ibaka to grow in value and hit the market in the summer of 2021 when the cap increases and more teams have money to spend

Would a one-year, $ 20 or $ 25 million offer be acceptable versus a longer-term offer but of a lower annual value?

The Raptors are hoping for better this way, given what Ibaka has done for them and – perhaps more importantly – where they would be without him

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Serge Ibaka

News from around the world – CA – It’s time for the raptors to show the underestimated Ibaka the respect he deserves

Source: https://www.sportsnet.ca/nba/article/time-raptors-show-appreciated-ibaka-respect-hes-owed/