Criticized Serge Ibaka deal moves Orlando Magic forward

March 2, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
March 2, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have been roundly criticized for shedding Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka. The move though moves the Magic forward in an important way.

The reaction was almost instantaneous when word of the Orlando Magic’s deal trading away Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka came across the wire.

There was the shock of seeing a big deal go down and getting a player with an unique skill set. And then the dismay and frustration realizing a fan-favorite player and a potential all star was gone.

It was draft night, so of course potential ruled the day over something a bit more proven. What could be wins over what is sometimes.

And there was plenty of skepticism from a fan base that has struggled through four years of rebuilding. Rob Hennigan lost some currency with a Tobias Harris trade this season that netted the Magic nothing but cap room and with a fourth coach in three seasons (even if one change was not his fault, nominally).

If the team was going to home grow its stars, why trade them before they become stars?

That fed a lot of frustration Thursday as the Magic made this deal. The response online from fans was overwhelmingly negative. Many NBA analysts asked what the Magic were doing selling on Oladipo after some of his performances this past season.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan faced the media and was asked about the seemingly overwhelming negative response to the work he put in Thursday night and recognized the difficult decision his team had to make regarding its future.

“We love that our fans are so passionate,” Hennigan said. “As we look at the team, oftentimes you have to make difficult decisions. We feel like we have a roster that is really well balanced now. It was important for us to balance it in a way that addressed a very glaring need and a very important need in today’s NBA.”

Filling that need was a clear one. It had the Magic reportedly interested in Al Horford despite already having a starting center in Nikola Vucevic on the roster. It had the Magic constantly searching for someone to pair with Vucevic to hide his poor rim protection.

Ibaka fills a major need for the Magic in that sense and sets the foundation for Frank Vogel’s defense in one form or another.

To get that player, reality may have set in on what the Magic have and what is marketable to other teams.

The reality may have been that the only way for the Magic to make a trade was to deal Oladipo. No one else on the roster may have much more value outside of promising young players like Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja. The team was clearly not ready to give those players away for much the same reason many have been critical of trading away Oladipo.

The thought for many was Oladipo was a rising young star and was just waiting for the right time to blossom.

The loss hurts and left questions about the team’s rebuilding plan, as Michael Lee of The Vertical wrote in grading the Magic as losers of the Draft:

"After years of patiently drafting and developing talent, the Magic have been undone by impatience. Orlando hired Scott Skiles to expedite the team’s push to become a playoff contender but that experiment imploded after one year, as several of its prospects had their development stunted – and Tobias Harris was shipped out in a salary dump."

Review after review shares this sentiment. Comments and mentions on Twitter say the same thing, the Magic gave up their could-be star for someone who was well established but had faced some struggles and had never been the focal point of an offense.

That frustration still exists. The Magic do not have a player who can take over a game offensively. Defense does not sell tickets (although winning certainly does, even if the scores are low).

It is still unclear exactly what this move means.

The Magic needed a rim protector and filled that need with one of the very best in the league. But they also needed to improve their offensive consistency. Trading away their best scorer and driver certainly does not help that.

Orlando, regardless of whether the team traded Oladipo, needed to hit on free agency and make some major additions. The Magic still need to do that. Perhaps the alarm is raised though with Ibaka facing free agency next summer. This could end up being a one-year rental (never mind Oladipo becomes a restricted free agent himself that summer).

There is still flexibility. This move seemed to be about brining the Magic forward to look more like the title teams. It would help the team gain some positional versatility and some dynamic defensive playmaking.

There are a number of different combinations the Magic could play with both on offense and defense. Dreams of a superathletic frontcourt of Aaron Gordon and Serge Ibaka are hard not to get excited about . Ibaka also can complement Vucevic, giving him the rim protection he needs.

Really Ibaka can complement any player because he can clean up mistakes with his recovery and shot-blocking.

“Serge’s ability to protect the basket, his ability to defend in a very versatile way is really going to help fortify a major weakness for us,” Hennigan said. “We did have a logjam at the wing. As difficult as it was to trade Victor, we realize to get something really good, you have to give up something really good. We believe in Evan, we believe in Mario Hezonja. We feel like those guys are more than capable to fill those wing spots.”

The Magic opted to fill a need, figuring they could fill out what was lost in Oladipo elsewhere. Maybe it is in Evan Fournier. Or Aaron Gordon’s development. Or Mario Hezonja’s development.

To the Magic, the risk of taking Ibaka on this contract year and the options he provided was worth it to transform the team in a fundamental way. The team needed to improve.

Next: Orlando Magic take their shot with Serge Ibaka

There remains questions about the move. It is undetermined whether it is as one-sided as the raw emotions Thursday suggested.