Serge Ibaka traveled far to get to where he arrived Saturday. It has been a journey as long as his given name.
Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka.
Drafted as a 19-year-old with the 24th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Ibaka joined the Thunder for the 2009-10 season following a year of pro ball in Spain. He was 6,000 miles away from his native Republic of Congo and barely spoke a word of English when he arrived in OKC.
On Saturday, Ibaka validated his skyrocketing league status when he agreed to a four-year extension with the Thunder. According to Yahoo! Sports, the deal is worth $48 million.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti repeatedly has said new contracts are based on anticipated achievements, not past results. Ibaka's bump in pay is significant, and so are Presti's expectations.
“We expect him and our other players to continually improve in all facets,” Presti said. “I think for us, to continue to evolve as a team, we're going to have to expect more production from Serge over a period of time.”
Ibaka, who turns 23 years old on Sept. 18, will make roughly five times his current salary of $2,253,061 when the extension commences next season.
“At 23 years old, we really do expect his best basketball to be in front of him,” Presti said. “This is about future performance and what we anticipate to be the continued growth as a player.”
There certainly is room to grow for the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Ibaka, although he did finish second in voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season while leading the league in blocked shots at 3.7 per game, 107 more blocks than his closest competitor.
He was chosen to the league's All-Defensive first team and has career averages of 8.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while shooting 54.0 percent from the field.
“He has a tremendous and consistent work ethic that is driven by internal discipline and focus that you see in high potential people,” Presti said. “He is an elite competitor and someone with great determination. If you know his history you know that nothing has ever been handed to him and all the traits that I mentioned have helped improve and drive him through the ups and downs that all pro athletes have to go through.”
Presti certainly was undeterred to get the deal done. He spoke in a teleconference call Saturday that ended around 3 p.m., just two hours before he married Shannon O'Connor in a private wedding ceremony in OKC.
Ibaka becomes the third prominent OKC player to agree to a rookie contract extension. All-Stars Kevin Durant (five years, $94 million through 2015-16) and Russell Westbrook (five years, $78.6 million through 2016-17) previously agreed to maximum deals under the league's collective bargaining agreement. Also up for rookie contract extensions are Thunder guards James Harden ($5,820,417 this season) and Eric Maynor ($2,338,721), who will become restricted free agents next summer if they do not agree to extensions by the league's Oct. 31 deadline.
A near-unanimous choice as NBA Sixth Man of the Year last season, the 22-year-old Harden is a maximum-salary candidate, which means he could make 25 percent of the league's projected salary cap for his extension, or roughly $60 million for four seasons.
The Thunder is hoping to avoid luxury tax implications, which become more punitive in the 2013-14 season — a mission that became considerably more difficult following Ibaka's lucrative deal.
Ibaka's new contract comes in at 20 percent of the league salary cap rather than the maximum 25 percent. If Ibaka continues his rapid ascent as one of the league's premier defenders, he could end up being a bargain.
The league's new CBA that came after a 149-day lockout prior to last season was supposed to curtail the number of maximum-salary contracts. Instead, early returns have teams overpaying young players with potential.
Indiana center Roy Hibbert and Brooklyn center Brook Lopez, who do their work near the basket much like Ibaka, both received maximum extensions this summer (see chart).
Though Ibaka struggles at times with his perimeter defense, he has shown steady improvement each season. Ibaka's shortcomings have been cited as a lack of knowledge rather than a lack of effort.
Presti said Ibaka did not waver from his intentions to remain with the Western Conference champion Thunder. The team has advanced to the playoffs every season with Ibaka and has improved its winning percentage each year.
“He communicated that to me, how much he likes playing with this group. … That's a great thing,” Presti said. “Our players are the guys who set the standards internally day-to-day.”
Ibaka gained citizenship in Spain last year and won a silver playing for that country's national team at the Olympic Games in London this summer, losing to Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Team USA.
The Thunder will hold a press conference upon Ibaka's return to OKC in early September, following his participation in a youth basketball camp he is hosting in his native Republic of Congo, plus the Basketball Without Borders initiative with Thunder teammates Cole Aldrich and Hasheem Thabeet in Johannesburg, South Africa.
POWER FORWARD/CENTER PAY SCALE
Serge Ibaka has agreed to terms on a four-year extension with the Thunder reportedly worth $48 million, starting with the 2013-14 season. Here are NBA power forwards/centers under contract who in 2013-14 will have salaries in close proximity to Ibaka's $12 million average.
Kevin Love (Minnesota), $14,693,906
Brook Lopez (Brooklyn), $14,693,906
Emeka Okafor (Washington), $14,544,687
Roy Hibbert (Indiana), $14,283,844
Luol Deng (Chicago), $14,275,000
Tyson Chandler (New York), $14,100,537
David Lee (Golden State), $13,878,000
Nene' (Washington), $13,000,000
Kris Humphries (Brooklyn), $12,000,000
Joakim Noah (Chicago), $11,100,000
DeAndre Jordan (LA Clippers), $10,986,550
JaVale McGee (Denver), $10,750,000
Tim Duncan (San Antonio), $10,361,446
Gerald Wallace (Brooklyn), $10,105,885
Top earners (2012-13)
1. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) $20,907,128; 2. Amar'e Stoudamire (New York) $19,948,799; 3. Dwight Howard (LA Lakers) $19,261,200; 4. Pau Gasol (LA Lakers) $19,000,000; 5. Elton Brand (Philadelphia/Dallas) x-$18,160,354.
x-Includes amnesty payoff of $16,060,354 with the Sixers.