With the February 23rd NBA trade deadline approaching fast, the Toronto Raptors made a splash. On Valentine’s Day, the Raptors acquired power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic for forward Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round pick.
After six grueling Eastern Conference Finals games in 2016, the combined talent of the Cleveland Cavaliers “Big Three” proved too much to handle for the prehistoric dinos. The Raptors hope that this acquisition will end the monopoly LeBron James has created on the conference since 2010-2011 season. Despite not playing with two superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the 6-foot-10 Ibaka has continued his success in his first season with the Orlando Magic. His numbers this season are on par with his numbers while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder: 15.1 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, and 1.6 blocks per game. There is no doubt he can continue putting up those numbers even while playing third fiddle to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Besides the statistical boost Ibaka will provide, he is one of very few players that can significantly protect the rim defensively, while at the same time stretching the floor offensively with an exceptional mid-range game. Serge also provides an important intangible: playoff experience. He was apart of multiple Thunder playoff runs, including a Western Conference Finals appearance last season.
Nonetheless, the trade came on the heels of the news that Cavs’s power forward Kevin Love would miss up to six weeks after undergoing a knee operation. Adding up the Raptors’s trade, the Kevin Love injury, the resurgence of the Washington Wizards, and the scrappy resilient play by the Boston Celtics all season, Cleveland’s #1 seed in the playoffs is now a much tougher equation to solve when compared to years prior
The real challenge will come during the playoffs, barring the Cavs and Raptors meeting up. With Serge matching up nicely against Kevin Love and Jonas Valanciunas already a force in the paint, the Cavaliers will not have a cake-walk. The main keys to this series will be the matchups on the perimeter. Even though LeBron and company (Irving, Korver, Smith, etc.) have more depth and talent, the skill sets of Lowry and DeRozan can keep the Raptors in any game.
With an extra roster spot, the ball is in Cavalier General Manager David Griffin’s court. Will they make a move to try and offset the Raptors’s trade? Whether they add workout warrior Jordan Farmar, or seasoned-veteran Jose Calderon as a backup point guard, or a big man to the likes of Andrew Bogut to counterbalance the loss of Love, expect the Cleveland front office to take action within the next week.