Serge Ibaka

The Thunder Roll On With Ibaka Extension

The summer months are coming to end. As a direct result the NBA world’s free agency buzz is slowly dying, which leads to many teams having advanced discussions with agents regarding contract extensions. On bigger level our world as a whole is currently facing with the ongoing monsoon season. The Oklahoma City Thunder agreeing upon a reported 4-year, $40+ million dollar extension with Serge Ibaka is the perfect compliment to both.

There’s certainly plenty of room for Harden to fit alongside Westbrook & Durant, but the luxury tax issues may say otherwise…

The Thunder have struck again, successfully locking up Ibaka alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for the team’s bright road ahead. While it’s safe to say the Thunder organization is in good shape for the next 3 to 4 years, one big issue remains in question: Will they have enough cap flexibility to also re-sign emerging guard James Harden as well?

For now the debate remains to whether or not it can be done, but in the meantime the Thunder have taken another giant step in the right direction. Deciding to extend Ibaka before Harden was a brilliant move and here are 3 reasons why:

1. Reggie Jackson:

One of the bigger, if not the biggest, mystery prospect was Jackson when the athletic, 3-year guard from Boston College entered his name in the 2011 NBA Draft. After suffering a knee injury in pre-draft process Jackson pulled out of his remaining scheduled workouts that left many team evaluators questioning his draft stock value. Having a ton of draft success momentum behind them (having previously drafted Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden) the Thunder tested their luck again hoping that Jackson would be the steal of the draft when they selected him 24th overall.

Receiving little playing time as a rookie this past season, Jackson only saw the floor in 45 games averaging 11.1 minutes per outing. In this small window of opportunity Jackson failed to impress scoring 3.1 ppg on just 32.1% shooting from the field. However, Jackson raised a ton of eyebrows with his play in the Orlando Summer League this past month. While his shooting percentage hasn’t improved drastically (41.2% FG) Jackson did display many improvements and his athleticism helped find himself on the nightly summer league highlight reels.

If Jackson can continue to show steady improvements and maturity in his game, he can certainly help the Thunder determine the value/priority of giving Harden a big payday. Having already locked up Westbrook long-term it’s not out of the question to consider a backcourt tandem of Jackson/Westbrook that helps the team avoid a luxury tax nightmare.

2. Perry Jones III:

A similar theme arises when examining the Thunder’s latest first round draft selection in Jones III. The Baylor product’s future as an NBA player included many question marks, which undoubtedly made him this year’s biggest mystery in the NBA Draft. Considered to be a potential top five talent, the Thunder considered Jones III a no-brainer when it came time for their 28th overall pick.

Although Jones’s summer league performances weren’t quite the results the Thunder were surely hoping for; the team definitely feels optimistic about his potential. If OKC is able to groom 6’11, 20 year-old power forward they may be willing to trade Kendrick Perkins which would enable them to start either Jones III or veteran Nick Collision at the power forward position and move Ibaka to the center spot. This particular trade scenario would significantly increase the team’s ability to resign Harden. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but the idea of a starting line-up that possibly could consist of: Westbrook/Harden/Durant/Jones III/Ibaka is pretty scary. Talk about a high octane, up-tempo, run and gun game!

3.  Hollis Thompson:

It’s more than fair to call this one a long shot, but it’ll be interesting to follow the development of Thompson. While the junior Georgetown product went undrafted this past June, Thompson does deserve some consideration as a possible piece to the Thunder’s future. After all, we’re talking about a 6’8, 21 year-old swingman who shot 46.4% from the field, including 43% from downtown as the go-to player on his team in the very tough Big East conference. If there’s one undrafted swingmen that might have a chance to find similar success to that of Portland’s Wesley Matthews, it’s Thompson.

In closing, it’s important to keep in mind that in no way are these points big enough reasons to shrug off trying to resign James Harden. Rather these points just strengthen the fact that losing a key piece like Harden may not be the end of the world for the Thunder’s title chances for years to come. Making the Ibaka extension the first priority was the right call as the Thunder organization continues to roll and the team can hope the lightening can strike big with their young prospects mentioned above.

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2010-11 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32 last season)

How could I not put up a picture of Kevin Durant? MVP? I think so.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook

Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha

Small Forward: Kevin Durant

Power Forward: Jeff Green

Center: Nenad Krstic

Key Reserves:

Guard: Eric Maynor

Guard: James Harden

Forward-Center: Serge Ibaka

The Thunder are still so young, yet so talented.  They can’t get ahead of themselves though.  This new success needs to be handled correctly and it cannot get into their heads or else they could possibly have a massive meltdown.  For example, take the 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets.  They are the perfect example of that.  They biggest concern I have for the Thunder is their shooting.  Other than Kevin Durant, it was an adventure for them last season.  Hopefully the additions of Daequan Cook and Morris Peterson can help in that department.  OKC is a lock for the playoffs and look for them to make a deep run.

Portland Trail Blazers (50-32 last season)

Will Oden ever last through an entire season?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Andre Miller

Shooting Guard: Brandon Roy

Small Forward: Nicolas Batum

Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge

Center: Marcus Camby

Key Reserves:

Guard: Wesley Matthews

Guard-Forward: Rudy Fernandez

Center: Greg Oden

No team ever avoids injury, but no team is ever stung as bad as Portland was last season.  With a complete lineup, this team has the potential to be the best in the West.  They allowed the fewest points of any team in the West (94.8) and defense is definitely their calling card.  Wesley Matthews was brought in for his defense and also to provide a spark off the bench.  Marcus Camby is still a great defensive center, even at 36-years-old.  Nicolas Batum has the length to block shots and get a couple of steals per game.  The great thing about the Trail Blazers is that they are also very young as well.  I realize that Camby and Andre Miller are not, but the rest of the team is.  This team will be good for years to come, as long as Brandon Roy is still hanging around in the future.

Utah Jazz (53-29 last season)

I think Hayward has a potential to be another Kirilenko.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Deron Williams

Shooting Guard: Raja Bell

Small Forward: Andrei Kirilenko

Power Forward: Paul Millsap

Center: Al Jefferson

Key Reserves:

Guard: Sundiata Gaines

Guard-Forward: C.J. Miles

Forward: Gordon Hayward

Deron Williams might be the best point guard in the NBA thanks to last season.  His playmaking ability is getting to a ridiculous feat and with the players around him it could even get better this year.  Getting the additions such as Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and Gordon Hayward acclimated quickly is crucial.  Williams and Carlos Boozer were the second coming of Stockton and Malone (obviously not as good as these two) and I believe Jefferson can fill the shoes of Boozer and put up 20 points and 10 rebounds for the season.  Jefferson is also going to have to find chemistry with Paul Millsap.  Both will want to control the paint, but each have to pick and choose when to make their moves.  The Jazz will most likely be a middle of the pack playoff team, but I see them losing first round.

Denver Nuggets (53-29 last season)

Will he stay or will he go?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Chauncey Billups

Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo

Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony

Power Forward: Kenyon Martin

Center: Nene Hilario

Key Reserves:

Guard: J.R. Smith

Forward: Al Harrington

Forward-Center: Chris Andersen

Most people probably are wondering why I have the Nuggets finishing fourth in their division, and the reason is because Carmelo Anthony will either be gone from the team or not focused enough to lead.  Carmelo is an elite player, and if he gets traded the Nuggets will turn into another run-of-the-mill team not making the playoffs.  We all saw the breakdown this team had without head coach George Carl, and without their superstar, all hell might break loose.  J.R. Smith is a hothead and even though he is in a contract year, his play will still be very streaky.  Kenyon Martin is always getting hurt, so the play of Al Harrington will be a huge part to the success to this team as well.  In the end, with Carmelo or not, I just don’t see it this year for the Nuggets.

Minnesota Timberwolves (15-67 last season)

A world of potential and only 21-years-old

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Luke Ridnour

Shooting Guard: Corey Brewer

Small Forward: Michael Beasley

Power Forward: Kevin Love

Center: Darko Milicic

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jonny Flynn

Guard: Wayne Ellington

Forward: Wesley Johnson

The Timberwolves are going to be even worse this year.  With the loss of Al Jefferson to division opponent Utah, Minnesota has no “go-to” scorer.  Michael Beasley is their best bet, especially since in 2008, he was projected and considered to be a better prospect than Derrick RoseKevin Love is developing into a great player but he does most of the nitty-gritty work.  Rookie Wesley Johnson has the skill set to be great and he will definitely get ample amounts of playing time with this team.  Darko Milicic has ANOTHER chance and again it will be a failure.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this team finishes with less wins than they did last season.