The Clippers are coming off the most successful season in franchise history after they made it to the Western Conference finals for the first time. But with Kawhi Leonard set to miss at least a majority of next season due to a torn ACL, and his future with the team not set in stone, there are plenty of questions about the Clippers’ path moving forward.
At least one of them has been answered, however. Veteran big man Serge Ibaka is planning to exercise his player option and will return to the team next season, according to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic. Ibaka’s option was worth $9.7 million.
This comes as little surprise given the health challenges Ibaka had last season. He played through a pinched nerve in the first half of the season, but eventually had to shut things down because it was getting too painful and missed 30 straight games. Then, after an attempted comeback ahead of the playoffs, he was forced to undergo season-ending back surgery.
Ibaka will turn 32 years old later this summer, played a career-low 41 games last season and there’s still no timetable for his return to action. He surely would have gotten a deal in free agency, but it probably wouldn’t have been worth nearly $10 million. Taking the player option guarantees him another big payday in the event that he’s not able to get back to his pre-injury level, and allows him to remain with a playoff team.
While signing Ibaka in free agency didn’t quite work out for the Clippers last season, they won’t be complaining either. The frontcourt was a source of concern for them during their playoff run, and they missed a versatile big like Ibaka who can protect the rim but also step out on the perimeter on offense. If he’s healthy he can give them a much-needed small-ball five and figures to be a key part of their rotation.
With the Ibaka situation now settled, the Clippers can move forward with the rest of their offseason, which figures to be quite busy and stressful given the uncertainty surrounding Leonard.