The Toronto Raptors lost another big man to free agency on Sunday, and the NBA team reacted quickly.
Marc Gasol has agreed to a two-year-deal to join the reigning NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers, according to multiple reports.
For the Raptors, that makes two of their centres lost in the first weekend of free agency. Serge Ibaka reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night.
But the Raptors adjusted quickly, getting free-agent centre Aron Baynes to agree to a two-year, US$14.3-million deal. He is a 33-year-old New Zealand-born Australian centre who spent the past season with the Phoenix Suns, averaging 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds. He has also played with the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs.
Reports also surfaced Sunday night that Toronto will re-sign big man Chris Boucher, who has spent his past two seasons with the Raptors and now seems poised for a bigger role. The 27-year-old from Montreal has reportedly agreed to a two-year, US$13.5-million deal.
Gasol will be remembered in Toronto for his high intelligence and his defensive skill – particularly on Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid in last year’s playoffs. Raptors fans will never forget his celebratory dancing atop the team’s championship double-decker parade bus in the streets of Toronto.
He became the second player in history to win an NBA championship and a World Cup in the same year.
The three-time NBA all-star and 2013 NBA defensive player of the year will be entering his 13th NBA season.
Gasol was drafted by the Lakers in 2007, but had his rights traded to Memphis for his brother – Pau Gasol – before he even played an NBA game. Now at the age of 35, the younger Gasol brother will get a chance to help the Lakers chase down back-to-back titles.
The native of Barcelona averaged 8.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game in parts of two seasons with the Raptors. Toronto acquired the seven-foot centre from the Memphis Grizzlies at the 2019 trade deadline, in exchange for Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick.
As for Ibaka, he may be leaving Toronto, but he says he’ll always be a Raptor.
The 31-year-old took to social media Sunday to dole out thanks for his time with the team, saying, “The love I have received on this journey I will never forget.”
“I’ve had great teammates, front office and staff next to me. And of course, a fan base that is second to none,” said the post, which accompanied a black-and-white photo of Ibaka walking off the court and into a plethora of outstretched hands.
“So thank you Toronto. Thank you, Canada. And thank you Raptors. I am one of yours forever. #WeTheNorth.”
His message comes amid multiple reports that Ibaka signed a two-year, US$19-million contract with the Clippers, where he will rejoin Kawhi Leonard.
The seven-foot forward came to Toronto in a trade with the Orlando Magic in 2017 and played a crucial role in helping the squad win its 2019 championship title.
Ibaka averaged 15.4 points a game and 8.2 rebounds a game with the Raptors last season.
Ibaka evolved into a fan favourite in Toronto, stemming from his incredible journey – from the Republic of Congo all the way to the NBA. When he took the NBA trophy back to Africa in the summer of 2019, one of his stops was a restaurant in Brazzaville outside of which he used to beg as a hungry boy, the third youngest in a family of 18 kids.
He became beloved for his uniquely artistic personality during his four seasons in Toronto. His YouTube cooking show How Hungry Are You? became a viral hit among basketball fans, as he interviewed high-profile guests and cooked bizarre delicacies for them to reluctantly taste-test.
The fashion-fascinated Ibaka then added another show – Avec Classe – which invited his teammates into a high-end Toronto men’s clothier so he could make over their sense of style. His show provided one of the team’s catchphrases of the season when he and OG Anunoby argued about which of the two of them first started wearing scarves: “What about scarves?”
The clever Ibaka even entertained fans with video hits as he quarantined in his Toronto apartment during the NBA shutdown, dubbed How Bored Are You?
After a very short turnaround from the end of the bubbled 2019-20 season, the NBA is ready to start the 2020-21 campaign on Dec. 22. The Raptors will begin training camp on Dec. 1, and begin their season playing home games in Tampa because of the pandemic.
With a report from The Canadian Press