The departure of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol should not be looked at sadly, but instead as a blessing for the culture that the Toronto Raptors have built.
The Toronto Raptors used to be a team that players hated getting traded to (cough, cough, Alonzo Mourning*) but the love that Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol provided the city showed the entire NBA that Toronto is a great place to play.
Like many big-name players that find their way to the Toronto Raptors, both Gasol and Ibaka were acquired via trade. Toronto gave up a fair bit of their depth to get both of these big-men.
In exchange for Gasol, the Toronto Raptors traded C. J. Miles, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and a 2024 second-round draft pick. In order to acquire Ibaka, the team traded away shooter Terrence Ross and a future first-round draft pick.
Both of those acquisitions had a ton of assets going the other way, but the Toronto Raptors acquired the best player in each deal, so it was worth it. As much as I’ll always have a soft spot for T-Ross after watching him drop 51 points against the LA Clippers back in 2014, only giving him up and a draft pick for Ibaka was a steal.
Mutual Love Between Ibaka, Gasol, and Toronto
After getting acquired by the Toronto Raptors, both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka made an impact right away. Averaging 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game during the Raptors championship run, Gasol was the perfect center for Toronto chipping in offensively, while being an elite defender.
Ibaka was an electrifying player as soon as he joined the Raptors and became a fan-favorite right away. Typically coming off the bench, Ibaka would turn into “I-Blocka” on the defensive end of the floor most nights and then could change a game on the offensive side with a big-three pointer. His offensive numbers got better each season and his ability to energize his teammates and the crowd was one of his best assets.
Numbers aside, both players showed the world that playing in Toronto was a cool place to play. Even in the harsh winters, Ibaka had fun with the weather, showcasing his huge scarf, which went viral. Gasol wasn’t involved as much as Serge was on Social Media, but both of them shared their love for the city.
Ibaka’s Social Media post below says it all and it should hopefully make other players around the league feel more comfortable about the idea of playing in Toronto.
The fan-base in Toronto has always been there with the Raptors. Even going back to the hardship days of Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani, the team had a die-hard fandom that supported them. It may not have been completely sold out every night, but this city has always loved basketball.
Obviously, the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard put the cherry on top in terms of star-power and popularity, but Ibaka and Gasol were two pieces that you typically wouldn’t see falling in love with their time in Toronto.
Both veterans had the opportunity as Free Agents to sign anywhere they wanted, so Toronto fans shouldn’t be upset that they chose somewhere else to play. Although Ibaka or Gasol on a one-year deal would suffice, the money wasn’t going to be there in the two-year deals they received. Especially in a year that the Raptors are clearing space in pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
So although another free agent left Toronto, this time was different. Ibaka and Gasol weren’t running out of the city and instead will forever be grateful to the city, the fans, and the organization they won an NBA Championship with. As a Raptors fan, that should be music to your ears.
Since the team re-signed Fred VanVleet, they were never going to be able to afford to bring the full band back together anyway. Instead of being upset about their departure, we should be thankful to both big-men for the entertainment and NBA title they helped bring the city.
Let’s hope the “Greek Freak” saw Ibaka’s post and is thinking to himself, “maybe I’ll head North and check out what Toronto has to offer for a few years.” Until then, we can only dream and wish both player’s nothing but the best in Los Angeles.