Peering into the crystal ball to see who the Phoenix Suns may target in free agency this offseason, Serge Ibaka stands out as a good fit.
This year’s free agency class is about as bad as it has been since NBA free agency became as (or even more in some years) interesting as the actual on-court product. You can trace that back to the beginning of the 2010’s with the landscape-altering “Decision” by LeBron James to sign with the Miami Heat. The Suns will have some money to spend, so should they focus on?
There are some valuable pieces to be had or diamonds in the rough that can help nudge a current lottery team to playoff contention or a current playoff team to title contention. It just means unless an incredibly unlikely scenario occurs and Anthony Davis decides not to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, there is no franchise cornerstone player on the market, more like No.3 guys and quality starters or role players.
The Phoenix Suns enter the 2020 NBA off-season with the ability to pretty easily generate the 5th most potential cap space in the league.
For the purpose of this piece, let’s say the Suns do all of the above and create $25 million in cap space to pursue a top-tier free agent this off-season.
Who should they consider spending the majority of that space on?
How about Serge Ibaka?
Ibaka is going to be 31 by the time the 2020-21 season starts (whenever that is) and clearly is not the shot-blocking force that he was as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier in his career. He is coming off of quite possibly the two best seasons of his career though as a major piece for a Toronto Raptors team that won an NBA title in 2019 and was on pace for 59 wins this season.
He is not in the age group that many would assume the Phoenix Suns would be targeting, but if you look at what kinds of players James Jones acquired in free agency in his first year: Ricky Rubio, Arron Baynes, Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, they were all mid-career guys with well-defined roles like Ibaka.
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He averaged 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists on 51.8% shooting from the field, 39.8% shooting from 3-point range and 74.8% from the free-throw line.
Ibaka would bring a level of experience and team success as a starter for an NBA championship team and for a team that has appeared in the NBA Finals, that the Suns haven’t had since Tyson Chandler.
Ibaka appears to be on the back end of his NBA prime, and a two-year, $20 million deal may be enough to pry him away from a Raptors team that will have a ton of decisions to make this summer with large expiring deals for Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol as well.
Ibaka’s ability to stretch the floor and a career spent sharing the floor with other seven-footers (Kendrick Perkins, Nikola Vucevic, Marc Gasol) mean that he could co-exist with Deandre Ayton and provide more scoring punch, length and defensive prowess than Dario Saric.
While there may be younger, more enticing options to upgrade the power forward position potentially through trade (Lauri Markkanen, Aaron Gordon), Serge Ibaka may be the best high-caliber free agent addition to make the Suns better in 2020-21.
A lineup of Rubio, Booker, Oubre or Bridges, Ibaka and Ayton feels like a playoff team next season.