Raptors Insider Reveals How Kawhi Leonard Changed Serge Ibaka’s Personality On and Off the Court

Published 12/04/2020, 6:48 AM EST
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 11: Kawhi Leonar speaks onstage during Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports 2019 at Barker Hangar on July 11, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/KCASports2019/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)


After the Kawhi Leonard-led team bid farewell to their big man Montrezl Harrell, they moved quickly to replace him with Serge Ibaka. The Congolese center who can also play power forward was let go by the Toronto Raptors in this free agency. In some ways, he was the best center available in the market aside from Harrell. Hence, signing him was a simple decision for the front office.

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Also, there’s a reunion of two former champions in Los Angeles. LA Clippers’ marquee player Leonard and recruit Ibaka spent a season together in Toronto. A season that yielded a championship for the franchise in 2019 before Kawhi moved South. The two shared an excellent camaraderie there. Hence, it is possible that Kawhi played a part in bringing him to Los Angeles.

TORONTO, ON – March 1 – Serge Ibaka (9) of the Toronto Raptors after hitting a 3-point shot on March 1, 2017. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Serge Ibaka-Kawhi Leonard reunion not surprising

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And their reconciliation doesn’t surprise Toronto Raptors’ analyst Leo Rautins either. Having the privilege of knowing the team up close, he details how Ibaka was struggling before Kawhi came in 2018. Terming him as an ‘Outsider’, Rautins said

“There was a dramatic change in Ibaka’s personality on and off the court from when Kawhi got there. From my perspective, seeing Ibaka pre-Kawhi when he got to Toronto; in some ways, he was always an outsider. Didn’t always fit, and he was always trying to prove something when he was playing.”

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But Rautins thinks he was able to turn a tide when the former San Antonio Spurs player came to the team. They formed an impeccable bond. And that was crucial in unlocking Ibaka’s true potential – “He (Kawhi) came into Toronto, and kind of surveyed the situation. He said, ‘Hey Serge, You are with me.’ And that kind of changed things for Serge… From that point on, really Serge’s career really changed with the Raptors. He just became, like, a key component.”

Can the duo help Clippers win the title?

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LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) celebrates with Lou Williams against the Dallas Mavericks during the third quarter in game six of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Steve Ballmer-owned team definitely looks better now after not only acquiring Ibaka but also Luke Kennard from Detroit. Adding the championship pedigree of the former OKC player will add much-needed leadership to their team. He is versatile and can slot seamlessly into their ‘small ball’ lineups too. Ibaka and Leonard have a 100% championship-winning record as a duo. And the Clippers will want that to stay intact come to the end of the season.

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Bharat Aggarwal

757 articles

Bharat Aggarwal is a sports analyst for EssentiallySports, covering Formula 1 and NBA. A Delhi University graduate, Bharat has multi-year experience in sports writing, having closely worked with the content strategy aspect as well. Bharat Aggarwal supports Manchester United, Lewis Hamilton, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, Dirk Nowitzki, Sachin Tendulkar, Ayrton Senna, Kristaps Porzingis, and Dallas Mavericks.

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