Maybe the biggest surprise on draft night in June was when the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Serge Ibaka. The Thunder had been Ibaka’s only team in his seven-year NBA career, but with his free agency coming up in 2017 and the Thunder looking to improve flexibility, youth and depth, they pulled the trigger on moving their best defensive player. There had also been rumors of Ibaka not being happy with his situation and role in OKC.
In a piece for The Cauldron, Ibaka says he never asked to be traded away from the Thunder, despite “media conjecture” about unhappiness with his role. He says he would’ve been happy staying with the organization, but also understands the business side of it and that he tries to just focus on the basketball aspects.
I never asked to be traded, even though there was a lot of media conjecture that I was unhappy with my role. I had an exit meeting with Billy Donovan and Sam Presti after the season, and it went well. But this is still a business, everybody has to do what’s best for them, and I let my agent deal with the business side of things. I just focus on basketball. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go in and ask for a trade, and I would have been happy staying with the Thunder.
It could be tough for some players, especially established veterans, to go from a contender like the Thunder (before Kevin Durant left) to a perennial lottery team like the Orlando Magic. Ever since they fired Stan Van Gundy and traded away Dwight Howard, the Magic haven’t even sniffed making the playoffs. There postseason drought stands at four straight years now. But Ibaka isn’t looking at it like that.
He’s familiar with general manager Rob Hennigan from his time with the Thunder. He’s excited about playing for Frank Vogel, who is one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA. And with the youth, athleticism and defensive players on the roster, they could be one of the toughest defenses in the NBA this season. For a guy like Ibaka, who has carved out a niche as a supreme rim protector, that’s pretty tantalizing for him.
Right now, though, I feel like a rookie again. I’m thrilled to be in Orlando. I know that might sound crazy to some people, that I’m excited to go from a contender like the Thunder to a rebuilding team, one that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, but playing now for Frank Vogel, a coach who prides himself on defense, is very exciting for me. We have a core of like-minded, young, athletic players, which is going to be very fun. We are an old-school, smashmouth team, and I can’t wait to don a Magic uniform on opening night.
The Magic added Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin this summer. That goes with the unexpected coaching change when Scott Skiles removed himself from the situation and the organization pounced on Vogel after he parted ways with the Indiana Pacers. They also re-signed Evan Fournier to a five-year, $85 million contract to keep investing in the team more.
It won’t be like it was with the Thunder, but Ibaka has been through the building process before. He may be the perfect type of veteran to help teach the young guys while fully embodying the defensive principles of his new coach.
Courtesy: CBS Sports