Magic Acquire Serge Ibaka From Thunder in Draft Night Deal

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

By John Denton
June 23, 2016

ORLANDO – Looking to add veteran experience that will make an immediate difference and potentially springboard the franchise back into playoff contention next season, the Orlando Magic boldly traded for shot-swatting power forward Serge Ibaka on Thursday night.

To get Ibaka, Orlando surrendered guard Victor Oladipo, the expiring partially guaranteed contract for Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis, who was selected with the No. 11 pick by the Magic in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Magic GM Rob Hennigan said he and Thunder GM Sam Presti talked throughout Orlando being ``on the clock’’ with the No. 11 pick, but the trade wasn’t agreed upon until after Sabonis was selected.

In the eyes of Hennigan and new head coach Frank Vogel, the price given up was well worth it because of the impact that Ibaka will have with his defense, versatility and big-game experience.

``We felt like this addresses our most glaring need, which is interior physicality, shot-blocking, toughness and rebounding and he’s someone who can play with Nik (Vucevic) and along with Aaron Gordon. We feel it just fits,’’ Hennigan said. ``(Defense) was a critical need to address this offseason and we feel like we addressed it.’’

Oladipo, Ilyasova and Sabonis were shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Ibaka, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound forward who has blocked 2.5 shots a game over his seven-year career in the NBA. He has never been an all-star player, but he has always been considered to be a key cog on a Thunder team that relied on his rim protection and willingness to defer to superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

``Defensive versatility is huge and to have a guy who can not only protect the rim at the highest level, but someone who also has the skill set to switch out on smaller guards, in today’s small-ball NBA he become extremely, extremely valuable to what we want to do,’’ said Vogel, who took over the Magic as head coach in May. ``And when you add in that he fits into the direction that the league is going offensively with his ability to space the floor to the 3-point line … he’s a guy who really fits into the direction that we want to go.’’

With the No. 41 pick in the NBA Draft, the Magic selected UNLV center Stephen Zimmerman, a 19-year-old who is 7-foot tall and 240 pounds. In just 26.2 minutes a game this past season, Zimmerman averaged 10.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a game.

With an already full roster, Orlando dealt the No. 47 pick to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Magic received cash and a 2019 second-round pick.

Hennigan is very familiar with Ibaka having been a part of the OKC front office that drafted the forward with the No. 24 selection in 2008. Hennigan can remember having dinner with Ibaka in Spain in 2008, but he refused to take credit for discovering Ibaka’s talent, instead saying, ``The Thunder found Ibaka.’’ The big man has gone on to be a first-team All-Defense player three times and the NBA’s leader in blocked shots twice.

Minutes before the No. 11 pick was announced by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Hennigan, CEO Alex Martins and several others in the Magic draft room clapped, hugged and celebrated – emotion elicited by the acquisition of the defensive-minded power forward in Ibaka.

The departure of Oladipo opens up more playing time and shots at the shooting guard position for Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja – Orlando’s two best 3-point shooters. Fournier will be a restricted free agent on July, but the Magic have said they plan to match any offer sheet the team’s third-leading scorer gets this summer to retain him. Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, will also likely be given more time at shooting guard following a rookie season that featured flashes of greatness.

``We love Vic and we know he’s going to be a heck of a player, but if there was one area on our roster where there was a surplus, (the wing position) was it,’’ said Hennigan, who selected Oladipo with the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. ``We used the surplus to address a deficit.’’

Orlando traded away Channing Frye and Tobias Harris this past season to create salary cap space for the summer. That created an opening at the power forward slot and the Magic pounced on the opportunity to acquire a talented player in Ibaka, who should instantly improve Orlando’s defense next season.

Because of his ability to guard multiple players and stretch the floor with his improved outside shooting, Ibaka should be able to play alongside of Magic standout center Nikola Vucevic – Orlando’s leader in scoring and rebounding each of the past two seasons.

Ibaka, 26 and a native of the Congo, averaged 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 79 games this past season. In the playoffs this spring, Ibaka averaged 12 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.33 blocks in 18 postseason games.

Ibaka’s numbers dipped a bit the past two seasons, but the Magic feel that was due in part to his decreased role as the Thunder used big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter more. In Orlando, the belief is that Ibaka will once again be a dominant defensive player and a versatile piece offensively.

``We feel very confident in Serge’s ability and I’d imagine that Serge is looking forward to maybe a little bit of a bigger role here,’’ Hennigan said. ``So I’m not concerned (about a numbers dip) at all.’’

In 524 NBA games over the last seven seasons, Ibaka has averaged 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Ibaka is a career 35.5 percent shooter from 3-point range and he’s made 137 of those threes over the past two seasons while working to expand his range.

Oladipo, very much a key cog the past three seasons in Orlando, was in the Magic’s facility working out as recently as Wednesday morning. He has been a standout performer in Orlando the past three seasons, averaging 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.6 steals in 224 NBA games.

``I was very, very excited coming here about working with Victor and (trading him) is the disappointing part of this move,’’ Vogel said. ``But this is part of this business, but these are the moves that you’ve got to make to improve your team. Serge is someone who fits all of the areas that fit the style that we want to play.’’

OKC’s pursuit of Oladipo could have something to do with the team’s hope to retain superstar forward Kevin Durant, who like Oladipo hails from the Washington, D.C. area. Oladipo had two of his best games of last season against the Thunder – a triple-double (21 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists) on Oct. 30 and 37 points on Feb. 3 on 13 of 20 shooting in Oklahoma City.

Ilyasova was acquired in February in the Harris trade with the Detroit Pistons. His non-guaranteed contract was attractive to teams looking to shed salary because he can be waived before July 1 in a cost-cutting measure. Sabonis, son of former Lithuanian star and Portland Trail Blazers standout Arvydas Sabonis, was also included in the deal after being drafted by the Magic at No. 11.

Martins, Hennigan, assistant GMs Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd and a host of scouts and staffers wore black #OrlandoUnited T-shirts in the team’s draft room to show support for those who died in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub on May 12. The Magic, Orlando City, Orlando Predators and Orlando Solar Bears have banded together to sell the shirts with the proceeds going to the OneOrlando Fund.

Following the Thursday’s draft, dead ahead for NBA teams is the free-agent courting period, which begins on July 1. Salary cap figures for next season aren’t expected to be finalized until July 6 – the first day that free agents can officially sign with teams – but the cap could rise from $70 million this past season to $94 million in 2016-17. The cap will then take another significant jump for the 2017-18 season and it could rise as high as a record $110 million.

Orlando is expected to have approximately $35-38 million to spent this summer, money that it could use to attract two difference-making players.

The Philadelphia 76ers, owners of the NBA’s worst record this past season, won the NBA Draft Lottery in May and used the No. 1 pick to select Ben Simmons. The Los Angeles Lakers chose Duke University forward Brandon Ingram with the second selection.

Boston, which came into the NBA with an all-time record of eight picks, chose University of California small forward Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 selection.

Dragan Bender (Phoenix), Kris Dunn (Minnesota), Buddy Hield (New Orleans), Jamal Murray (Denver), Marquese Chriss (Sacramento, traded to Phoenix), Jakob Poeltl (Toronto) and Thon Maker (Milwaukee) were the other players selected in the Top 10.

Hennigan said he could understand why Magic fans might be upset about losing a player the quality of Oladipo, but he truly believes that the acquisition of Ibaka better balances the Magic and makes them a better team going forward.

``First of all, I love that our fans are so passionate, but as we look at the team a lot of times you have to make difficult decisions,’’ Hennigan said. ``We have a roster that is really well-balanced now. It was important for us to balance it in a way that addresses a very glaring need. Serge’s ability to protect the basket and defend in a very versatile way, we feel that will help to fortify a weakness for us.

``We did have a log jam at the wing,’’ Hennigan continued. ``As difficult as it was to trade Victor, we realize in order to get something really good you have to give up something really good.’’

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