Report: Serge Ibaka remains away from team, returns questionable
Just before today’s opener in Miami, The Athletic’s Eric Nehm tweeted something that likely flew under the radar of many Bucks fans:
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said he doesn’t expect Serge Ibaka (personal reasons) to join the team when they return home to Milwaukee. https://t.co/J1cRbgQXV0
— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 14, 2023
Speculating about what “personal reasons” might be for a professional athlete is not usually a productive exercise. Occasionally it can mean something positive, like when Jayson Tatum’s nebulous absence from a game a few weeks ago turned out to be because celebrating his son’s birthday. Most of the time, though, the reasoning is unlucky: family tragedy, struggles with personal demons, and so on.
In the case of Serge Ibaka, it appears to be due to dissatisfaction with the team. In an interview published just over a week ago with a Spanish channel (although Congolese, Ibaka played two years in Spain before coming to the United States), the big reserve was asked about coach Mike Budenholzer and said this:
I’m skilled enough in Spanish to tell you that he reports that he’s fully healthy, but he’s in a tough spot behind Brook Lopez’s All-Star caliber play. He goes on to essentially say “this is life as an NBA player and I have to keep working because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.” Boilerplate stuff.
The reporter then mentions that Bud has spoken well of Ibaka publicly, to which the veteran feigns some ignorance (“what coach?”) before declaring, “truthfully, I don’t know what to say about that.” You don’t need to speak Spanish to understand the last line above, of course.
Could Ibaka be the source of the mysterious? “chemistry issues” that Bill Simmons alluded to on his podcast almost two weeks ago? May be. Also, Ibaka is not with the team and clearly has no sunshine and daisies feelings about his current role. He has appeared in just two games since Nov. 21 for a grand total of 27 combined minutes, with very few tally stats during that action.
Ibaka sure hasn’t looked good when he’s played this season, so I don’t know how you can blame Bud for the bench. In just 16 games, he is averaging 4.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per outing in 11.6 MPG. His halcyon “Iblocka” days are long gone as he averages just 1.4 blocks every 36 minutes. He’s just never looked the same after back surgery in 2021, and at age 33, his NBA career appears to be winding down.
As you seem to (?) understand, there is very little playing time behind the three-headed rotation of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis. Given that they’ve all enjoyed fairly good health this season, and how today’s NBA tends to veer smaller, it stands to reason that Ibaka is only in Milwaukee for insurance, which the team still doesn’t have. needed Opting to re-up with the veteran-minimal Bucks this offseason, you’d think he would have understood his role on the team.
If he is in fact unhappy and stays away from the team, he is more likely to be a pay-equal piece if he is involved in a trade; cap hit of $1.84 million, his expiring deal won’t fetch much more on his own. It’s possible the Bucks could waive him as well, keeping his salary on the books but opening up a roster spot for a new 15th man.
Serge Ibaka may have played his last game as a Buck. We will always have the cooking videos.
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