Serge Ibaka exercises contract option to stay with Clippers

Serge Ibaka is returning to the Clippers after the Veterans Center informed the team on Saturday that he will exercise his player option for the next season, according to two people familiar with the situation who are not allowed to speak publicly on the matter.

The player option is worth $ 9.7 million. Getting Ibaka prevents him from becoming a full free agent, but after being limited to just 41 games due to injuries, it was unlikely that he could win a more lucrative offer from another team.

Clippers president Lawrence Frank said Thursday the team hoped Ibaka would exercise his option.

Ibaka, 32, averaged 11.1 points at the Clippers, his lowest average in nine seasons, and 6.7 rebounds, only averaging less than seven points in the fifth season of his career. But his 58 percent shooting within the three-point arc surpassed his career average of 54.9%, and his presence allowed the Clippers to spread the ground in a way that the team’s other traditional centers – Ivica Zubac and DeMarcus Cousins – couldn’t.

However, several Clippers believed the team’s defensive improvement began when Zubac was forced to join the starting XI following Ibaka’s injury in March, what he described as the exacerbation of a pinched nerve he’d played through since the beginning of last season.

“It’s been a very tough year for me since the beginning of the season, but I want to play through the pain, but at some point I couldn’t play like that,” he said on May 14th.

Ibaka would only play three more games before the team announced in the postseason that he had had back surgery. He missed the Clippers’ last 17 playoff games.