As is their style, the Oklahoma City Thunder quietly reached an agreement with young big man Serge Ibaka on a contract extension for a reported 4 years $40 million late Friday night (US time). Ibaka came second in Defensive Player of the year voting in the 2011-2012 season and led the league in blocks. While he has yet to master a complete defensive game in the mould of a Tyson Chandler or a Dwight Howard, Ibaka is only 22 years old and has steadily improved each year he has been in the league. Considering the type of money that JaVale McGee was paid this offseason (4 years and $44 million), Ibaka’s deal looks like a relative bargain. Both are still somewhat raw players, but Ibaka does not come with the type of question marks which surround McGee and his enigmatic personality.
With stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook locked down for maximum contracts, some have wondered whether the small-market Thunder could keep all four of their precocious young core. While it will still be a tight squeeze to fit them all under the salary cap, this team-friendly deal certainly gives wiz General Manager Sam Presti a little more wiggle room to work with. If the Thunder choose to renounce the rights of every other free agent and decline to pick up team options for those with unguaranteed deals, the team would have 8 players under contract for approximately $60 million, which is right around where the cap should be next season. James Harden will now all but certainly test restricted free agency, with the Thunder having a tough choice to make as to whether they want to match the max-offer that Harden could very well fetch on the open market.
There is always the possibility of using the amnesty provision to wipe the 2 years and $17.5 million remaining on center Kendrick Perkins’ deal, but with the presence of All-Star Dwight Howard on their Western rival Lakers now, OKC may be more inclined to keep the much ballyhooed “Dwight-stopper”.
Though the team certainly still has some difficult decisions ahead, this deal can only be viewed as a positive for the front office. In an offseason where McGee has gotten $44 million and Omer Asik has gotten 3 years $25 million, $10 million a year for a talent like Ibaka is excellent value. Already one of the more efficient players in the league, Ibaka’s combination of shooting touch, length and athleticism suggest even greater things are in store for the young big man.
EDIT: The deal is reportedly for 4 years $48 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. Still good value for him, but not quite the coup that $40 million would have been, obviously.