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Serge Ibaka didn’t expect to leave Toronto, but he thinks the Clippers are a perfect fit

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It certainly doesn’t hurt that his good friend Kawhi Leonard is once again his teammate.

Toronto Raptors v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

When free agency began last month, Serge Ibaka thought he would be re-upping with the Toronto Raptors, his team since February 2017. He loved his teammates, the front office, the fans, and the comfort he had developed with that organization.

But the Raptors had a different vision for their future, and that opened the door for Ibaka to find a different team. Cue the Clippers, and their recruiting pitch (video c/o of the Clippers, Mirjam Swanson on the question):

With a friend like Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, it was a no-brainer for Ibaka to make the move across the country.

It wasn’t just about Leonard. The Clippers are a championship contender with all the talent in the world — at least on paper — and Ibaka is excited about having the opportunity to potentially win another title.

“We only have one thing on our mind, we come here to compete at a high level, to do better than what the team did last year,” Ibaka said at his media day availability Thursday. “I felt the Clippers was a perfect fit for me this year. It was not an easy decision to make. Because you know, I love Toronto, the last three and a half years was great in our organization.”

Coming from the Raptors gives Ibaka experience in winning situations. This is what he thrives in. As he said Thursday, pressure is good because it makes people better. That wasn’t necessarily the case for the Clippers in last season’s playoffs, and Ibaka certainly noticed that when we watched from a distance.

“From the far I felt they have everything,” Ibaka said. “Just maybe the manner of doing things, you know all the little things right. You know, sometimes when you have the best players on paper, you are one of the best teams, sometimes you have a tendency to forget all the little things, the details is very important too. So to me, from the far, it felt like it was a lot of little things, details, you know, good habits. The team didn’t have it last year. I’m sure of course you learn from it, and hopefully this year they learn from last year and try to do things better this year.”

That’s part of why the Clippers brought Ibaka in — to change the attitude of this team on and off the floor. That, combined with his overall talent, is why the Clippers felt very fortunate to be able to add Ibaka to their team.

“Just being a veteran, being a professional, which he’s been his whole career,” Ty Lue said when asked about Ibaka’s effect on the team. “Being able to space the floor, I think when you have a range shooting five it changes your offense, and it changes the opposing defenses as well, because now guys have to get back out to shooters. Having five guys on the floor that shoot the basketball is big, and it’s huge for your offense so I think the offensive end is great, but what Serge brings far as defensively, his talking on the back line or being there to block shots at the basket, challenge shots at the basket, it’s huge for us. I know the NBA is doing a lot of scoring now, but I do think defense is very important to win the championship, and having Serge’s presence on the defensive end is going to be huge for us.”

The Clippers needed a player like Ibaka who talks on the floor, but also one who can open the lines of communication within the locker room. Ibaka’s fun-loving personality was fully on display in his first appearance as a Clipper, and if his relationship with Leonard is any indication, Ibaka will get along with everyone on the roster.

Ibaka also fills a role on the court. He says he is happy to fill whatever role the Clippers ask of him, whether that’s backing up Ivica Zubac, playing next to him in big lineups, or even starting in Zubac’s place against a particular opponent. The Clippers clearly thought Ibaka was the perfect fit, and the feeling was mutual.

It sounds like it will take some time for Ibaka to come to terms with no longer being a Raptor, but the Clippers have made him feel wanted. That’s a good place to start.