Thunder Closer to Keeping Core Intact

Even without any significant free agent signings, Oklahoma City had one of the most successful summers of an NBA franchise.

The latest accomplishment came Saturday when the Thunder agreed to a four-year $40 million contract extension with Serge Ibaka.

The runner up in Defensive Player of the Year voting became the third young star to pass on becoming a restricted free agent to agree to a long term deal with the Thunder. 

The Western Conference champions began the summer with the same cap figure as the Charlotte Bobcats, a team that finished with the worst winning percentage in league history last season.

In three seasons with the Thunder, Ibaka emerged as the top shot blocker in the NBA, leading the league in total blocks each of the past two seasons.

In 66 games, he rejected 241 shots, 107 more than DeAndre Jordan, the second leading shot blocker, falling just short of joining Marcus Camby as the only player to swat away 250 or more attempts in a season since 2004-05.

Serge Ibaka blocked 3.7 shots per game last season, the highest average since Theo Ratliff in 2000-01.

His 3.7 blocks per game marked the highest average of any player in the past 10 seasons and in a three week span last year, he recorded three 10 block performances.

Kevin Durant, the leading scorer in the NBA each of the past three seasons, was the first to sign a long term contract with the small market thunder, inking a five-year $86 contract, keeping him in Oklahoma City through the 2015-16 season.

Six months later, the Thunder agreed to terms on a five-year $80 million extension with two-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, ensuring the young duo would have at least three more opportunities to bring a championship to Oklahoma City.

The only piece remaining is James Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

Following its run to the NBA Finals, the biggest question facing the Thunder was if it is capable of keeping both Ibaka and Harden for the long term.

One of the results of the lockout last fall was each franchise having the ability to retain a member of its team by assigning the Designated Player tag, enabling a fifth-year to be offered on a new free agent contract.

Oklahoma City was lucky enough to sign Durant under the old collective bargaining agreement, allowing it to use the Designated Player tag to resign Westbrook to a near maximum extension.

By coming to terms with the 6-foot-10 Ibaka, Oklahoma City secured three of its four participants from last week’s gold medal game in London.

Durant led Team USA in scoring, Ibaka scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the gold medal game, Westbrook totaled the fifth most steals of an American player in the Olympic tournament while Harden sank the key free throws to seal the gold medal.

If Oklahoma City fails to reach a contract extension with Harden prior to Oct. 31, he will become a restricted free agent next summer and cuold command a maximum contract.

Harden has indicated that he wanted to remain with the Thunder, but with the trio of contracts from Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka taking up nearly $40 million of the $58 million salary cap, retaining Harden will be a challenge.

James Harden (left) is the final key piece to sign a long term contract with Oklahoma City, something Serge Ibaka (right) did Saturday.

Ever since America captured the during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the carry over from the participants in the regular season has been evident.

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to consecutive championships after spending his summer in China and Durant morphed from a scoring machine into a preferential MVP candidate following his time with Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

No team has had four representatives in an Olympic finale, so even without a significant addition in free agency, the Thunder should be much improved next season.

The Lakers added Steve Nash and Dwight Howard this off-season, the biggest asset for Oklahoma City is continuity.

Of the top-eight players in minutes played on the Thunder roster, only Nick Collison is over the age of 27 and the entire starting lineup is about to embark on its second full season together.

With the starting lineup in place, Oklahoma City strengthen its bench by selecting Perry Jones, a projected top-10 pick, 28th overall in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-11 forward slipped to late in the first round as a result of knee issues, which may require surgery at a later date.

No team is more prepared for the long term than Oklahoma City, but with Ibaka in place and three of his teammates winning gold in the Olympics, the Thunder is once again a legitimate title contender now.

About Brendan Galella

Brendan Galella founded Shatter the Glass to make the NBA even more accessible to basketball fans. Composing player rankings, team evaluations and intriguing observations, he hopes to turn every reader into a dedicated and educated basketball follower.

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