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Free-agent market will make it tough for OKC Thunder to keep Serge Ibaka

by Berry Tramel Published: July 5, 2012

The early returns on NBA free agency have not brought good news to the Thunder.

The Houston Rockets offered Omer Asik $25 million over three years. Asik was the Bulls' offensively-challenged backup center last season. The guy who missed those foul shots after C.J. Watson needlessly threw him the ball in the final seconds against the Sixers.

The Portland TrailBlazers offered Pacers center Roy Hibbert a maximum contract — $58 million over four years. Hibbert is a good player; a borderline all-star. Maybe he's worth $14.5 million a year. He'd better be.

And the Celtics gave Kevin Garnett a three-year, $34-million contract that is described by most as “below-market value.”

Does anyone still think Serge Ibaka will come cheap?

The Thunder can sign Ibaka (and James Harden and Eric Maynor) to contract extensions this summer. The rest of the league must keep its hands off until at least next summer, when the Thunder trio would be restricted free agents. That means the Thunder can claim their services by matching whatever contract offer they sign.

Sam Presti knew the market would make for a tight fit to keep Harden and Ibaka, particularly. But this tight?

Backup centers with no offensive game going for $8.3 million a year? Asik is a decent player. Good defense, good rebounder, absolutely horrible on offense. And he's 26. Ibaka is 22.

A max contract for a 7-foot-2 center who shoots less than 50 percent from the field and whose career year last season netted 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game? Both Hibbert and Ibaka can change a game defensively, and while Hibbert has been more productive offensively, he's also had more opportunity, and both of those truths could change in the next several seasons. If Hibbert is worth $14.5 million a year, Ibaka's worth isn't far behind.

A hometown discount of $11.3 million a year for a guy who will be 39 in the last season of the contract? I know you can't compare anyone to KG's impact in Boston, but as much as the Celtics love his fire and competitiveness and leadership, the reason they signed on for three more years was the inside presence Garnett brings. Other teams will want the same from Ibaka.

Maybe they're all worth it. Obviously, that's what the market has established.

But that means Ibaka's worth will skyrocket, too.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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