The Serge Ibaka trade was still the correct move for the Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 29 (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 29 (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

From the moment the Milwaukee Bucks announced that Brook Lopez would be undergoing a back procedure last December, there was always optimism that he would return in 2021-22. Though no specific timetable was ever provided, all signs pointed to him being back well before the playoffs as the team dropped updates about his rehab process here and there.

Despite their faith in Lopez getting back on the floor, the Bucks swung a trade for Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline to bulk up their center depth. Given the team’s need for a backup center to play behind Bobby Portis at the time, the move was a solid one for the defending champions. However, with Lopez officially back on the floor for the Bucks, some have started to question the Ibaka trade and if it was ultimately the right move. Despite Lopez’s return, which was always inevitable, it is a good trade on Milwaukee’s end regardless for several reasons.

Why the Serge Ibaka trade was the right move for the Milwaukee Bucks despite Brook Lopez’s return

First and foremost, Lopez returning does not guarantee he will leap back into the starting lineup and pick up right where he left off. The Bucks will undoubtedly look to ease the 33-year-old back into the swing of things, and his minutes will be monitored closely. Having another veteran center like Ibaka will be a luxury as coach Mike Budenholzer can utilize him when managing the minutes for Lopez or giving Portis a breather. Reintegrating Lopez into the lineup may see Ibaka’s minutes regress to some degree, but he will still have a role on the Bucks without question.

The big man brings battle-tested postseason experience, toughness, and solid production to the table, which has all been on display throughout his first 11 games. After a somewhat slow start, Ibaka has found his footing lately and is averaging 6.8 points while shooting 54.3 percent on his field-goal attempts and 40 percent on his 3-point tries, while pulling down 5.9 rebounds and playing some robust defense following the NBA All-Star break. Having a player with that type of production and pedigree could be the ultimate difference-maker throughout the postseason.

As for the trade itself, many felt like the Bucks fixed one problem by adding another center while creating another one as they gutted some of their wing depth. Of course, Milwaukee traded away Donte DiVincenzo, Rodney Hood, and Semi Ojeleye to acquire Ibaka, and the team has dealt with a handful of injuries since. Pat Connaughton unfortunately suffered a broken hand mere hours after the February 10 trade deadline passed, joining George Hill, who had been out since January 28 due to neck soreness, on the sidelines for a considerable amount of time. While Hill returned last night against the Utah Jazz, the Bucks are short on depth once again as they lost DeAndre’ Bembry for the season recently. DiVincenzo could have been a big help with these injuries.

Under the impression that Lopez would unquestionably be back down the line this year, many fans argued that the Bucks should have kept the trio while retaining DeMarcus Cousins. The center was signed by Milwaukee shortly after Lopez’s surgery, and he played rather well with the team before he was shockingly waived in January to give the Bucks flexibility. Some said that if the Bucks were going to add another center knowing that Lopez would be back, they should have kept Cousins to begin with while keeping their most prized young asset in DiVincenzo. That is an understandable hill to stand on, but the Ibaka trade is still a significant addition for the Bucks.

Not only did Milwaukee add a household veteran that has a lucrative resume to patch one of their biggest flaws, but they got two second round picks and cash as well. Given DiVincenzo’s struggles since coming back from ankle surgery and how Hood and Ojeleye became non-factors since being booted from the rotation, moving them was understandable. Cousins was great when he played in Milwaukee, but Ibaka presents a clear upgrade, especially defensively. Yes, the Bucks had to move DiVincenzo to get him onto their roster, but given’s the guard’s minimized role this season and the team’s need for size at the time, it was and remains justifiable.

The Ibaka trade also paved the way for the Bucks to eventually sign Jevon Carter, who has been a welcoming surprise early on as he has carved out a legitimate role for himself.

Time will tell how Ibaka’s role changes with Lopez back in the mix, but he is certainly not going to be glued to the bench nightly. Jon Horst and the front office operated with the understanding that Lopez would be back this season, and that factored into their decision to get Ibaka. No matter how one looks at it, trading for Ibaka was the correct decision for the Milwaukee Bucks, though it is still early in his tenure.

Even though it was always expected that Lopez would be back, adding a veteran like Ibaka as an insurance policy was also a feasible aspect here just in case the former suffered any setbacks.

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Stay tuned to see how coach Budenholzer will utilize Ibaka with Lopez back in the fold.