Despite not having one of the top picks, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a huge splash at the NBA draft.
The Thunder traded forward Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, the draft rights to the 11th pick which is former Gonzaga big man Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, who they’ll likely release. Ibaka has been with the Thunder his entire career, has been known as a shut down defender and increasingly has become an offensive presence. So why move him? Here’s 4 reasons.
First, he’s in a contract year. The salary cap is going way up next summer but if the Thunder kept Ibaka, they’d have to find a way to pay him, Russell Westbrook, and likely Kevin Durant if Durant decides to sign a deal where he can opt out after the season. That’s a lot of money to spend on three players who haven’t yet proven they can win a title.
Secondly, the Thunder proved last season that they two reliable big men. Steven Adams had an unbelievable postseason for OKC, and established himself as one of the top centers in the game. Enes Kanter also played a big role in some of the team’s success and at just 24 years old is just entering his prime.
The next reason is probably the most important: the Thunder got a huge haul in return for Ibaka. Victor Oladipo was the number 2 overall pick just 3 years ago. He was under utilized and misused in Orlando. He’s always been a solid defender, but in the right system, he will get opportunities on offense like never before. With how the Thunder spread out the ball, and the attention Durant and Westbrook command, Oladipo should get open chances. Domantas Sabonis has a ton of upside and will be about 12 million dollars cheaper than Ibaka next year. They’ll also have him at a low contract price for the next few years based on his rookie deal.
Finally, the Thunder are desperately trying to keep Kevin Durant. By making this move, the team is showing they’re willing to wheel and deal to improve the team. Does trading Ibaka hurt the locker room? Maybe. He’s still just 26 years old. But the bigger picture is that this team was close to a finals appearance last season, and they’re proving they will maneuver anyway they can to bring a title to OKC.