Mak­ing a splash

Rap­tors ac­quire big man Ibaka from Magic for Ross

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY LORI EWING THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Toronto Rap­tors were cartwheel­ing down the East­ern Con­fer­ence stand­ings, and a sense of unease had seeped into the dress­ing room.

Team pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri made a big splash Tues­day to try to get the club back on track by reel­ing in Serge Ibaka from the Or­lando Magic, ac­quir­ing a player he’s long cov­eted and fill­ing a void at the power for­ward po­si­tion. The Rap­tors gave up Ter­rence Ross and a first-round pick in the 2017 draft in ex­change for the piv­otal big man.

“He’s def­i­nitely one of a kind when it comes to rim pro­tec­tion, be­ing able to score in the post, and also space the floor as well,” Rap­tors guard DeMar DeRozan said at the team’s morn­ing shootaround in Chicago. “Sucks to see (Ter­rence) go, but now we’ve got to make this new ad­just­ment with a great new ad­di­tion.”

The Rap­tors con­firmed the deal late Tues­day af­ter­noon. Ibaka was ex­pected to fly to Toronto on Tues­day evening and, de­pend­ing on how low his phys­i­cal takes, could be in uni­form tonight when the Rap­tors host Char­lotte.

“Some peo­ple say parts of his game have changed, he’s be­come a re­ally good shooter,” Ujiri said at an evening press con­fer­ence. “But I’ve know this guy for years, he’s a hel­luva com­peti­tor, he brings play­off experience, he’s played in the NBA Fi­nals be­fore. Ev­ery­one knows who Serge is, he’s a war­rior. Ev­ery time he steps on the court he com­petes.

“He’ll give us good rim pro­tec­tion, he’s a good de­fender and I think he can play mul­ti­ple po­si­tions too, which will help us.”

The move came with the Rap­tors mired in their worst slump in two sea­sons. En­ter­ing Tues­day night’s game against the Bulls, the Rap­tors had dropped 10 of their last 14 games to slip from sec­ond to fifth in the East­ern Con­fer­ence stand­ings.

In Ibaka, a chis­elled six­foot-10 power for­ward, the Rap­tors get a ver­sa­tile player who can knock down shots and pro­vide a huge pres­ence in the paint.

“I think he’s a great ad­di­tion to any team and es­pe­cially to ours where we can add some shot-block­ing, some out­side shoot­ing, some in­side tough­ness, some ath­leti­cism, run­ning up and down the floor,” Lowry said in Chicago. “I think he’s go­ing to be a guy who can take some pres­sure off of me and DeMar.”

What’s the big­gest need the new big man fills?

“It’s kind of hard to pick one,” Lowry said. “We can use the shoot­ing, we can use the tough­ness, we can use the floor run­ning, we can use the shot­block­ing, we can use all that.”

Se­lected 24th over­all by Seat­tle in the 2008 draft, Ibaka played seven sea­sons along­side Kevin Du­rant and Rus­sell West­brook in Ok­la­homa City be­fore be­ing ac­quired by the Magic last sum­mer. Ibaka should pro­vide a big boost to Toronto’s de­fence — the Rap­tors rank 17th in the NBA in de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency.

Ibaka is av­er­ag­ing 15.1 points, 6.8 re­bounds and 1.6 blocks a game this sea­son, and fits the hole at power for­ward Ujiri had hoped Jared Sullinger — who’s been in­jured most of the sea­son — would fill. And at just 27, Ibaka fits in nicely with Toronto’s young core of Lowry, DeRozan and Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas.

The Rap­tors will hope to re­sign Ibaka when he be­comes a free agent this sum­mer.

The deal came just over a week be­fore the Feb. 23 NBA trade dead­line and is the Rap­tors’ first trade in nearly 20 months.

Ross, who was se­lected by Toronto with the eighth over­all pick in the 2012 draft, is in the first year of a US$31-mil­lion, three-year con­tract. His de­par­ture will open up play­ing time for Nor­man Powell, who has been solid de­spite lim­ited min­utes.

AP PHOTO

Serge Ibaka is shown as a mem­ber of the Or­lando Magic. The Rap­tors ac­quired the power for­ward Serge Ibaka on Tues­day for Ter­rence Ross and a 2017 first round draft pick.

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