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Toronto confident Serge Ibaka will buy in to the team despite losing contender status

Serge Ibaka

Kawhi Leonard’s departure leaves the defending-champion Toronto Raptors in an awkward position. No longer realistically capable of defending their title, the Raptors are a team mostly comprised of older veterans whose utmost goal is winning at the highest level.

Will the likes of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka be content playing in Toronto if there are better opportunities to compete for a Larry O’Brien Trophy elsewhere? And if not, just how hard a bargain should team president Masai Ujiri drive in negotiations for players who just helped the Raptors reach the NBA mountain top for the first time?

The answers to those questions are fluid. But for now, it appears Ibaka, at least, is comfortable with the notion of not just playing for a non-contender, but continuing to come off the bench, according to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg.

“Should add, Raptors officials say they aren’t worried about Ibaka coming off the bench for a non-contender. They’ve spoken with him and believe he’ll buy in as he did last year. If it becomes an issue, they’ll address it then.”

TSN also reported on Wednesday that the Raptors currently have no plans to trade Ibaka, Lowry, or Gasol, all of whom are on expiring contracts for 2019-20, before tipoff of the regular season.

Serga Ibaka found new life playing the majority of his minutes at center for the first time last season, averaging 15.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He began coming off the bench once Toronto acquired Gasol at the trade deadline, and had several big games throughout the Raptors’ run to the title.