Just before today’s tip-off in Miami, The Athletic’s Eric Nehm tweeted something that probably flew under the radar of many Bucks fans:
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said he doesn’t expect Serge Ibaka (for 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. Sometimes that can mean something positive, like when Jayson Tatum’s inexplicable absence from a game a few weeks ago turned out to be because he celebrated his son’s birthday. Most of the time, however, the cause is not so fortunate: family tragedy, battling personal demons, and so on.
In the case of Serge Ibaka, it seems that it is due to dissatisfaction with the team. In an interview with the Spanish media a week ago (although Ibaka, who is from the Congo, played in Spain for two years before coming stateside), the reserve bigs were asked about coach Mike Budenholzer and said:
I speak enough Spanish to tell you that he reports that he is perfectly healthy, but is in a tough spot after the Brook Lopez All-Star Game. He goes on to essentially say, “that’s life as an NBA player and I’ve got to keep working because you never know what’s going to happen in the future.” Pot stuff.
The reporter then notes that Bud has spoken highly of Ibaka publicly, to which the veteran feigns some ignorance (“which coach?”) before saying, “I honestly don’t know what to say about this.” You certainly don’t need to speak Spanish to understand the last line above.
Could Ibaka be the source of the mysterious “chemistry issues” Bill Simmons alluded to on his podcast about two weeks ago? Even though. Furthermore, Ibaka is not with the team and clearly has no sun-and-pearls sense about his current role. Since Nov. 21, he’s appeared in just two games totaling 27 minutes, putting up very few stats during that stretch.
Of course, Ibaka hasn’t looked good when he’s played this season, so I’m not sure how you can blame Bud on the bench. Appearing 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 per 36 minutes. He’s never looked the same since back surgery in 2021, and at age 33, his NBA career appears to be winding down.
As he seems to understand, there is very little playing time behind a three-headed big man rotation of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis. Given that each has been fairly healthy this season and how today’s NBA tends to shrink, it stands to reason that Ibaka is only in Milwaukee for insurance, which the team doesn’t really need just yet. With the Bucks’ minimal selection of veterans back this season, you’d think he’d understand his role on the team.
If he’s truly unhappy and staying away from the team, he’ll likely be a salary-cap player if involved in a trade. At $1.84 million, his expiring deal won’t earn much more by itself. It’s possible the Bucks could waive him, too, keeping his salary on the books but opening up a new 15th man on the roster.
Serge Ibaka may have played his last game for Bucks. We will always have cooking videos.