Trading Serge Ibaka now is right move for Orlando Magic

Dec 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) reacts and celebrates against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 109-90. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) reacts and celebrates against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 109-90. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

With a run to make the playoffs pretty much out of the question, the Orlando Magic should start rebuilding by trading Serge Ibaka.

On June 23, the Orlando Magic traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Domantas Sabonis (taken with the 11th pick in last year’s NBA Draft) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was a veteran who was expected to bring athleticism and toughness to Orlando’s frontcourt.

Serge Ibaka’s work ethic and playoff experience motivated the Magic to make the deal, hoping he would help enhance the team’s culture and roster.

Less than a year after acquiring him the Magic are reportedly trying to trade him. The experiment and gamble the team took has not worked. And the Magic are left trying to figure out where to take their future. Starting with what to do with Ibaka.

Ibaka was known for his defensive prowess when he began his NBA career. He even led the league in blocks per game and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Team three times. But he also became a threat on offense, scoring inside or stretching the defense with his outside shooting.

The Magic hoped an elite shot blocker like him could help on defense and improve the spacing on offense. The Magic’s main offseason focus was to upgrade defensively, so they signed free agents Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green.

But things have not worked out as planned.

Right now, Orlando has the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference at 20-33, four games behind the Detroit Pistons for the last playoff spot, but the team is coming off a 113-86 blowout loss in Atlanta last Saturday.

Devastating losses like that have taken place often and the Magic struggle on defense.

Orlando is giving up 105.4 points per game, 17th in the NBA. The team ranks 22nd in defensive efficiency, 23rd in field goal percentage allowed and 23rd in opponent points allowed. They are also pulling down just 42.6 rebounds per game, 25th in the league.

It has led the Magic to making a difficult decision before the Feb. 23 trade deadline. One that has become even more clear as that date gets nearer.

Ibaka is set to be an unrestricted free agent in July and it makes sense to explore trades and gain some value for him now in case he leaves the team for nothing at the end of the season.

Keeping Ibaka after the trade deadline is risky because he could very well sign with another team as a free agent. Besides, even if the Magic resign him in the offseason, it does not guarantee the team will improve. Clearly, with him leading the team, it has struggled.

Losing so many games has not helped and the Magic are reportedly actively exploring options regarding Ibaka.

The problem is that other NBA teams do not have to bail the Magic out for their bad decision of giving up so much for Ibaka. It will be impossible to recoup all of the value the Magic gave up in June.

Many teams could be interested in Ibaka but they might prefer to wait until the season ends to reach out to him in order to avoid trading assets for him now.

Still, there might be some teams that view Ibaka as a player that could be the difference between an early playoff exit or a chance at a deep run. The Magic should explore this possibility and contact teams that fit that profile.

Teams like the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers or San Antonio Spurs do not need Ibaka to take them to the next level. But contacting the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards or Houston Rockets is a must, as these four teams make sense as potential trade partners.

Overall, Ibaka is having a solid season, averaging 14.9 points and 6.9 rebounds, shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and 38.2 percent from 3-point range. It is not fair to blame him for all of the team’s problems. He has had a career year by many accounts.

That being said, he was supposed to be a building block for an improving team. And, since the Magic are 13 games under .500 with him, should they spend big money to keep him?

Although he is trying to tune out trade rumors and avoid distractions, Ibaka is averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in 29 minutes per game in his last 10 games. Ibaka played poorly against the Atlanta Hawks, scoring just five points with two rebounds and zero blocks while shooting just 2 for 9 from the floor in 24 minutes.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Ibaka is a power forward who can shoot well behind the arc. He has been an incredible shot blocker throughout his career.

He is a sound defender and rebounder and he can play at center. But his trade value is low because his rebounding and blocking numbers have decreased this season.

Ibaka averages 1.6 blocks per game, the lowest since his rookie season. Defenses have figured a way to negate that valuable aspect of his game.

Teams are not willing to give up a lot in a trade for him, as he would basically be a rental. Unless teams are sure he will resign with them, the market for him will be small. Those Bird Rights could come in handy.

The Magic gave up a lot to get Ibaka thinking he could help contend for a playoff spot. Now Orlando is realizing they were wrong. He has played well at times. But he is not a big difference-maker or a star to build a team around.

Next: Orlando Magic fail the momentum test again

Ibaka is an unrestricted free agent. The Magic must try to get whatever package of players or picks they can before he leaves for nothing. It is time for the Magic to right their wrong and get some value for Ibaka while they can.