Before I embark on this shameless journey of nostalgia, let me say this:
That trade, which sent Ibaka to the Magic in exchange for Lil’ Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, and Ersan Ilysasova, was a great trade for the Thunder.
(Emerson alum) Sam Presti got a promising rookie big man and a perfect third option for a power forward who had already peaked.
Even three years ago, when Ibaka’s value was at it’s highest, this trade would have been a steal.
Steven Adams emerged as a really good player this postseason, and Enes Kanter is a killer sixth man and another big man looking for minutes. The need for Ibaka in Oklahoma City diminished noticeably over the last three months…
But I sure will miss that dude in a Thunder uniform.
You can’t think KD and Russ without thinking Serge, right?
When James Harden got traded, it was Durant, Westbrook AND Ibaka’s team. He was that good, that young and that promising. He was a defensive monster, a solid rebounder, and a big man with a feathery jump shot.
A main counterpoint in support of Harden’s trade to Houston was the expected emergence of Ibaka, who was only 22 years old at the end of that NBA Finals run in 2012.
And even though he leveled out a bit—his rebounding went down, his shot blocking fell, and his scoring hit its max—he was still a beating part of the Thunder’s identity.
This wild trio came into the league demanding respect. Durant and Westbrook were the trail blazers, but Ibaka was right there with them.
Two years ago, when the Thunder were challenging the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, Gregg Popovich said this of Ibaka.
(Per USA Today’s Sam Amick)
“I think he’s a special player and a special person,” Popovich said. “The way he handles himself, the class that he exudes, I think he’s the best defensive player in the league.”
“I think he’s been overlooked to some degree in that (defensive) regard. But he also does what he does at the offensive end. I think he’s one of the most gifted players in our league because he’s a dual player. He does it at both ends of the court. But he’s also a fine man, so that’s a pretty great combination.”
Now he’s being sent to Orlando.
I wanted to see those three win a title together. Ibaka deserved to be there when the Thunder finally do break through.
What a shame.
Image via USA Today