When Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard texted, Serge Ibaka answered

Kawhi Leonard is just the type of to-the-point recruiter you might imagine.

What did he say to persuade veteran Serge Ibaka to say goodbye to Toronto and join him in LA?

Just a few words, via text.

“‘Hi how are you.’ That’s what Kawhi texted me, ”Ibaka said Thursday via Zoom, his first media availability since signing a two-year $ 19 million deal with the Clippers last week.” On the day of a free agency, he texted me: “Hey, what’s up? Are you coming or not?”

“Imagine Kawhi in his voice,” continued Ibaka, who became the first player from the Republic of Congo to win an NBA title in 2019 when he and Leonard were teammates in Toronto. “It was very funny. I know him, so that’s how we communicate. When he says ‘What’s up’, I already know what he means.”

There is no doubt how much Ibaka will miss Toronto, where he played more than three seasons, enjoyed his tenure immensely and had no desire to leave.

But because the Raptors prioritized the flexibility of the salary cap, they refused to offer Ibaka more than a year’s contract and focused on incarcerating young point guard Fred VanVleet.

“I didn’t really think about leaving Toronto until the end when everything starts, and I have my meeting with (team chairman) Masai (Ujiri) and (General Manager) Bobby (Webster),” said Ibaka. “It felt like things weren’t (were) in the same situation in our thinking …

And of course, Leonard had made his succinct, cordial invitation.

There were reports that Marcus Morris Sr. had invited his own brother Markieff to join him on the Clippers.

At the start of free agency, Marcus extended his stay with the Clippers with a four-year contract worth $ 64 million. But Markieff chose to re-sign with the Lakers, for whom he had played a key role on their way to their championship in the Orlando bubble.

Markieff told reporters on Thursday morning that the rumor he might be working with his twin brother again was, “Just talk, man. They were just trying to scare Lakers fans.”

In his Zoom video conference with reporters later, Marcus Morris was reluctant to dwell on that development: “(That) I don’t really want too much to talk about. It didn’t happen. He’s happy where he is and, like I said, I’m always rooting for him. ”

Morris said he also doesn’t grudge Montrezl Harrell or JaMychal Green for their decision to leave the Clippers (for the Lakers and Denver Nuggets, respectively) on free duty – although he did say he’s excited to face them, starting with the season opener against the Lakers on December 22nd and Game 2 on Christmas in Denver: “We’ll just have to beat their (rears) too.”

And Morris is eager to include Ibaka, he said.

“Serge will be of great help to us with his versatility, the ability to play the five and the four and the ability to help Big Zu (center Ivica Zubac) and add some more veterans to this team,” said Morris . that he for his part expects to play a more defined offensive role this season than when he joined the Clippers on the trade deadline last season.

Ibaka, 31, expects to have an impact too, he said. The 7-footer comes out of a career-best attacking season as he averaged 15.4 points and shot 38.5 percent from a 3-point range on 3.3 tries per game. He also achieved 8.2 rebounds per game.

“We only have one thing on our mind, to come here and try to compete at a high level and do better than the team did last year,” said Ibaka, whose perception of the Clippers’ disappointment after the season. was that they didn’t. Don’t pay enough attention to details.

Those little things matter, said Ibaka, who earned Leonard’s faith both on and off the field during their only season together in Toronto.

“We just understand each other,” said Ibaka. “Kawhi is the type of person, you have to get to know him personally to understand. From afar I see a lot of people saying different things. Even myself. But when you approach him and spend time with him, you understand him.

“One thing about Kawhi and me is like, there is no ego in our friendship. … I know who he is and as a teammate he knows what I can do for him, for the team and it is to make things smoother and easier. ”

Kawhi Leonard, left, and Serge Ibaka won a championship during their lone season with the Toronto Raptors. Can they do it again now that they get back together as Clippers? (Photo by Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)