NBA Saturday: Ibaka Extended, Harden Next?
According to a Yahoo! Sports report, rising Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka has agreed to terms on a four year, $48 million contract extension. Ibaka averaged 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game in 2011-12.
Oklahoma City, who reached the NBA Finals this past season, ascended to prominence in recent years has been largely fueled by their talented young core of four players who excelled while playing on rookie scale deals.
All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are undoubtedly the main cogs for the Thunder and, not surprisingly, were locked into maximum level contracts both exceeding $80 million respectively.
Ibaka, 22, led the NBA in blocks per game in 2012 and figures to be a perennial candidate in the Defensive Player of the Year race for the foreseeable future and was just rewarded handsomely for his development (Note: Atlanta Hawks All-Star center Al Horford signed an extension in 2010, averaging $12 million per year).
With one member of the core four yet to be locked into a long-term deal, things will now get even more interesting from a financial standpoint for general manager Sam Presti and the organization moving forward.
The role of Ibaka’s signing and what it means for the future of shooting guard James Harden with the team is still up for debate, but it will force Thunder management into thinking long and hard before issuing a deal early.
Harden, the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year, is set to become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2013. With Ibaka locked in, has Harden become the odd man out or is he next in line for a new deal?
Fast forwarding to the 2013-14 season, the Thunder will now have $57.1 million in salary commitments to Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. Keep in mind, the salary cap for the 2013 season currently stands at $58 million and it is uncertain if it will increase or decrease in the near future.
If Harden commands a deal in the $11-$13 million neighborhood as widely expected, Oklahoma City would have roughly $68-$71 million of salary commitments tied into just six players starting in 2014 and the team would be forced to play the luxury tax game while filling out the rest of its roster.
The new collective bargaining agreement hands out much stricter punitive penalties for teams thinking of occupying a spot on luxury tax lane on a long-term basis. For Oklahoma City, venturing into this territory would usher in a change of philosophy from how they rose to near the top of the Western Conference standings in the first place – by accumulating cap space and acquiring young talent.
With Durant and Westbrook two of the league’s most explosive scorers locked in long term, will the organization look to deal the offensively dynamic Harden for multiple assets which would allow them to keep their financial flexibility in the coming years?
Durant was confident that the group would stay together in early July, stating he didn’t believe Harden would ever hit the open market on his Twitter account. Now, with Ibaka signed long term, the dynamic possibly changes if Oklahoma City allowed Harden to work the restricted free agent market and find a deal. As always with free agency, there is the inherent risk of losing a coveted player for nothing in return.
For instance, a team such as the Phoenix Suns, who are seeking an upper-tier shooting guard, could make things difficult by offering a frontloaded deal or a contract with a “poison pill” provision, which would limit the small-market Thunder’s ability to match because of the balance sheet. (Side note: Harden played at Arizona State University in college and recently said he was open to playing for the Suns).
Harden’s future with the team remains unclear at the moment and he’s the squad’s most valuable trade chip not named Durant or Westbrook. There’s still a lot of time before next summer, an eternity by NBA standards, when decisions must be made but for now all eyes are focused on Presti’s next move.
Was it truly Ibaka or Harden all along? Or is the mission still to lock in both? Time will tell.
Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried Talks Andre Iguodala Trade, Losing Mentors
The Denver Nuggets recently made their power play in attempting to break into the ranks of the Western Conference’s elite by acquiring All-Star forward Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers in a four-team blockbuster last week. In the deal, the Nuggets traded guard Arron Afflalo and veteran forward Al Harrington to the Orlando Magic.
The move has some believing the Nuggets can snap their three-year streak of being bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, the No. 22 overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, is excited to add Iguodala’s experience to the roster but also disappointed that he lost a mentor in Harrington in the process.
“I’m happy to have Iguodala on the squad,” Faried said to HOOPSWORLD at Baron Davis’ charity kickball game. “I was kind of disappointed to let go of two of our better players who have been here for a while and helped us really mold our team. Especially Al Harrington. He’s been with the team for a team for a while; he was really there for us. He helped me as a big guy and as a rookie. He really showed me things that most of the guys on the team weren’t really able to. He really helped us stretch the floor and Arron he was more to himself but he really helped the team when we needed him in crunch time playing his hard-nose defense. “
Adjusting to the business side of the NBA is one of the last things younger players adapt to, but Faried has already been exposed to it on multiple occasions since entering the league.
“I saw the business side more with Nene,” Faried said referring to the trade deadline deal last season which saw the veteran center shipped to Washington. “I saw that and it was eye opening that we let go of a guy who we signed for that much money long term to lead us. When they let him go it was shocking, I knew it was a business then. You get past it because I love the game. If you love and respect the game you get past everything and stay focused on what you want to do as a player.”
Business aside, Faried feels confident the addition of Iguodala will provide immediate dividends for the Nuggets this season.
“It’s very healthy for us,” Faried said. “He’s going to fit in fine with the team because he likes to run, slash, and eventually get out and play defense. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re getting young. We just got younger with this trade for Iguodala. We just have to stay focused and have everyone get better this summer. We got younger but he is very experienced. He was on a playoff team and he got past the first round so that’s going to help us.”
Up Close With Kyle Anderson
UCLA men’s basketball figures to be a mainstay in the Top 25 poll throughout the upcoming season strengthened by their much heralded recruiting class. Sitting at the top of the list is incoming freshman Kyle Anderson, who routinely ranked in the top five of his class while starring for perennial power St. Anthony’s High School (NJ).
Anderson, a 6’8 wing, possesses solid playmaking skills and figures to play a little point-forward on the collegiate level at certain times. UCLA struggled to a 19-14 finish last season and wasn’t selected for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. There will be pressure for Anderson to avoid the normal learning curve associated with incoming freshman.
HOOPSWORLD caught up with Anderson recently at the adidas Nations event in California. Anderson spoke about his transition into collegiate basketball, gaining cohesion with his new teammates, the pressure of playing for UCLA and the 2013 NBA Draft. Check out the exclusive interview below: