But Ibaka never worried.
“I believe in God. I believe in me. I believe in my talent,” Ibaka said. “I know if I keep working the right way, everything will come naturally.”
That's one of the main reasons Ibaka said this new deal doesn't add pressure onto his sculpted shoulders. He figures if he continues to do the things that got him this rich reward, he'll perform with no problems.
“I know my focus,” he said. “I have my objective. No matter if I signed for $50 million, I have my objective … I'm going to keep going my way. I know where I come from, and I know where I'm going.”
Ibaka admitted that the money was important. In the next breath, however, he said it was more important for him to be happy, for him to remain with the Thunder after his rookie deal and for him to help the franchise finish what it's started.
“This is only the beginning of my career,” Ibaka said. “I know I still have a long way to go. I will keep working and keep my focus and try to get better and better every day.”
When Brooks shared a conversation he had with Ibaka last summer, it shed light on just how big Ibaka dreams. As the two rode neighboring stationary bikes — Ibaka peddling at a much faster pace than Brooks could keep — Ibaka told his coach he wanted to be the best defensive player in the league. He wanted to win Defensive Player of the Year.
“At that point, I'm looking at him and thinking, ‘How am I going to tell this guy that's probably not going to happen right now?' Brooks said, laughing at the memory. “But he was really serious and animated, and at that point I believed that it could happen.”
It nearly did.
Where Ibaka's career goes from here remains to be seen. But it became crystal clear on Monday that whatever is to happen, the Thunder surely is glad it will happen in OKC.
“He has earned our trust, but he's always had our belief,” Presti said. “We couldn't be more thrilled for him. He stands for a lot of things that we want to be about, and we're supremely confident that he's going to continue to improve and represent this organization in the fashion that he and his teammates will be proud of.”