6 centres Raptors could target to replace Serge Ibaka

Michael Grange joins Sportsnet Central to discuss the Los Angeles Clippers signing Serge Ibaka, what impact it has for the Toronto Raptors and what their next moves could be.

The second day of free agency proved to be a very eventful one for the Toronto Raptors and their fans.

The reports coming out arosund lunchtime Saturday that Fred VanVleet was re-signing with Toronto had people veritably giddy on Twitter, both happy that VanVleet got the payday he deserved and because it didn’t completely break the bank for the Raptors, allowing them to keep their ambitious plans for the 2021 off-season intact.

However, about 11 hours later, that joy turned into melancholy as it was then reported that Serge Ibaka would be reuniting with Kawhi Leonard and heading to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Ibaka was one of the most popular members of the Raptors, turning himself into an engaging personality thanks to his active social media channels and YouTube page that saw him become a fashion icon, a celebrity chef and a comedian.

But as much as Ibaka will be missed for his endeavours off the court, on it is where the Raptors might really be in trouble without him.

VanVleet was unquestionably the Raptors’ top free-agent priority, but speaking strictly in terms of team depth, Toronto would’ve been OK had he decided to take his talents elsewhere, particularly after the club selected Malachi Flynn in the first round of Wednesday's draft.

On the other hand, when looking at Toronto’s centre depth, with Ibaka gone and Marc Gasol also a free agent, the only players who fit in there are Dewan Hernandez and Chris Boucher -- who is currently a restricted free agent but is likely to return.

That’s rather problematic for the Raptors, and even if you want to argue that the league is going small anyway, you’d still like to have someone who can start at the five for you, and neither Hernandez nor Boucher seem like they’re ready for that just yet.

Thus, it’s now rather important that Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and Co. go out and try to find a centre in the free agent market.

As this year’s free agency has shown, the market for centres is at about the full non-tax-payer mid-level exception (a starting salary of about $9.25 million), but if the Raptors don’t mind paying the luxury tax this season, they would have the room to go beyond that -- something that could help them in their pursuit of starting-quality big men.

There are options to be had out there for the Raptors, and here are six they may want to consider.

Aron Baynes

Probably the best option still available, Baynes is tough as nails, sets elite screens and even appeared to add a three-point shot to his game in what was a career year last season with Phoenix.

He may be a player slightly out of the Raptors’ price range, but the heart and hustle he plays with would make him an instant fan favourite if he were to join Toronto.

DeMarcus Cousins

A sexy name, Cousins is a four-time all-star but has seen his career derailed by injury, playing just 95 games over the past four seasons and missing all of 2019-20 with an ACL issue.

At one point, Cousins was one of the best centres in the league, but after enduring so many injuries and having to go through all that rehab, it’s difficult to say what kind of player he may be now.

With that said, he could likely be had at the veteran minimum and if he’s anything close to the “Boogie” of old, then the Raptors would be hitting the jackpot.

Marc Gasol

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones, and in the case of the Raptors, they might be able to solve this particular problem if they can convince Gasol to return.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, they — plus at least the Golden State Warriors — are in pursuit of Gasol at the moment.

There was understandably a lot of attention paid to the idea that the Raptors had to re-sign Ibaka, and that’s probably because while Ibaka had arguably his best season as a pro, Gasol may have just had his worst.

Gasol will be 36 near the end of January and his skills very well may have outright diminished, but coming off the NBA and FIBA championship in the summer of 2019 into last season, something always seemed off with Gasol, so there’s a chance 2019-20 was an anomaly and his game will return to him.

If Toronto can convince him to return at something like the veteran’s minimum (about $2.5 million) or something comparable, it would be worth the risk to find out if he still has more left in the tank.

Frank Kaminsky

Kaminsky is a stretch-five who won’t do much for you on the glass or on defence, but he has offensive skill and would likely stand to benefit from getting more three-pointers up to increase his productivity.

He's not the strongest candidate here for the Raptors, but the ability to shoot the ball, especially when you’re seven feet, will warrant you a look.

Alex Len

Len is an old-school bruising big with little athleticism and a poor outside shooting stroke, but he features plenty of hustle on the boards and, when given a chance, soft hands on the inside.

Len would likely fall outside of who the Raptors would look to target, as they’re an organization that values versatility. A player who’d do better playing in the 90s doesn’t exactly fit that bill.

Still, he’s an option who’s out there, and it’s never a bad idea to keep an open mind.

Hassan Whiteside

If the Raptors want rim protection, there are few in the league better than Whiteside, who’s an elite shot-blocker.

He doesn’t offer much in the way of outside shooting skill, nor is he much of a passer, but Whiteside can score the rock when given an opportunity to do so down low. His game would probably look like Jonas Valanciunas’s when he was with the Raptors, with the difference being that Whiteside is a much better defender.

These would all be enticing things for the Raptors, but the question is how expensive might he run them?

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