At the end of a quiet second day of NBA free agency, the Clippers made some noise.
That sound? Celebration. And maybe some relief.
Serge Ibaka agreed to a deal with the Clippers on Saturday night, according to multiple reports. The 7-footer reportedly will sign for two years and $19 million, with a player option for the second season. That deal aligns with what Montrezl Harrell reportedly agreed to from the Lakers on Friday.
The Clippers reportedly competed for Ibaka with a pair of other determined suitors, in Brooklyn and Toronto, where he’d played the past three seasons. In L.A., he will play behind Ivica Zubac, filling the hole left by Harrell at backup center while also helping to replace some of the floor-stretching prowess lost with reserve forward JaMychal Green, who late Friday agreed to a two-year, $15 million offer from the Nuggets.
And Ibaka will reunite with Kawhi Leonard, with whom he played when the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA championship in 2019.
The Clippers now have 11 guaranteed contracts and are $3.4 million below the hard cap – with a pair of non-guaranteed contracts (Joakim Noah’s $2.7 million deal and recently acquired Justin Patton’s for $1.8 million) that could help diminish the burden.
Ibaka, 31, is about to begin his 12th NBA campaign. He’s fresh off a season in which he averaged a career-best 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds and shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range on 3.3 attempts per game.
He also was big in the playoffs, when the second-seeded Raptors lost to Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Ibaka averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in the Orlando bubble, while making 51.1 percent of his 3-point attempts in the postseason.
As free agents flew off the board Saturday, steadily stocking other teams’ rosters ahead of the fast-approaching Dec. 1 start of training camp, the Clippers remained characteristically mum. The only substantial hint of what they wanted to do came in the evening when the New York Times’ veteran basketball writer Marc Stein tweeted what many Clippers fans already assumed: “The Clippers have joined the race for free-agent big men Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol.”
“Gasol,” Stein added, “is considered the more realistic target given the fierce competition for Ibaka headed by Toronto and Brooklyn.”
But Ibaka chose the Clippers, who reportedly are set to pay him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9.3 million) this season. Considering that development, and the team’s agreements with starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. on a four-year, $64 million offer, and Patrick Patterson, another backup forward who will get a one-year, $2.3 deal – the Clippers still have their biannual exception ($3.6 million), trade exception ($3.6 million) and veteran’s minimum contracts to work with.
And they still have work to do.
The Clippers need to add additional depth at forward, and there’s still the matter of finding a fitting facilitator at point guard, which ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said in October that Leonard “privately has clamored” for.
The Clippers were linked to Rajon Rondo, a key member of last season’s championship Lakers squad. But when the 14-year NBA veteran reportedly agreed to sign a two-year $15 million deal with Atlanta on Saturday, speculation shifted to Charlotte guard Terry Rozier, who fueled the rumors by seeming to drop hints online about a pending move.
Not long after Gordon Hayward reportedly agreed to a four-year, $120 million deal with the Hornets on Saturday, Rozier, 26, posted a video on Instagram in which he was rolling a suitcase toward a van, saying you get “shipped out the city sometimes” and “it be like that sometimes.” And sharp-eyed NBA sleuths also noticed that Rozier – who on Friday was mentioned by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix as a possible trade target for the Clippers – also liked a tweet suggesting that he’d fit into the team’s culture.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound former Louisville standout bounced between point guard and shooting guard this past season, his first as a full-time starter, and averaged a career-high 18 points per game on 40.7 percent 3-point shooting. He also is entering the second season of a three-year, $56.7 million contract that he signed with the Hornets last offseason. So, as of Saturday evening, any move by the Clippers to bring him aboard remains conjecture.
Their pursuit of Ibaka, on the other hand, goes down as a win.