Serge Ibaka signs four-year extension

Oklahoma City might be a small market. But it’s certainly keeping its big-time players.

The OKC Thunder and Serge Ibaka agreed to a four-year extension Saturday in a move that very well may keep the reigning Western Conference champions title contenders for the coming years. Yahoo Sports has reported that the extension is worth $48 million and will keep the power forward under contract for the Thunder for the next five years.

“So happy for the opportunity to be part of the @OKCThunder for 5 more years! Proud to play for this team and for the best fans in the @NBA,” Ibaka tweeted Saturday.

Ibaka has proven to be an important cog to the squad, leading the league in blocks two years ago with 198 and then again last season with 241 as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. While his offensive game is still lacking in certain departments, he has steadily built a solid mid-range game that the 23-year-old will more than likely continue to improve upon over the course of his career.

“He’s come a long way in a short amount of time, but I’ve seen a lot of hard work that’s gone into that on his behalf, and that gives us confidence that he’s going to continue to work at it,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a conference call.

With Ibaka locked up for the next five years, the Thunder are in position to be in the championship running for years to come. They currently have All-Stars Kevin Durant on board for the next four years and Russell Westbrook for five more seasons. All three were Olympic medalists this year, Ibaka a silver medalist with the Spanish national team while the latter two claimed gold as part of Team U.S.A.

“At 23 years old (by the time next season starts), we really do expect his best basketball to be in front of him,” Presti said.

But retaining these players has come at a price for Oklahoma City. Ibaka’s extension raises doubts as to whether team will be able to retain their other Olympian, James Harden, whose contract expires next season. With more than $50 million due to Durant, Westbrook, and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder will likely have to go over the salary cap of $58 million and pay the luxury tax to keep Harden.

Presti rejected the notion that Harden’s days with the Thunder were coming to an end.

“We’re going to continue our conversations with James. We very much value him,” Presti said. “We want him to be a part of our organization moving forward. We’re excited that he’s a member of the Thunder and we’re hopeful that he’ll be with us for years moving forward.”

The Thunder have already had to make moves, letting free agents Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey walk away and have not re-signed Derek Fisher to this point. Unless the Thunder are able to make further moves, they will be unable to hold onto backup point guard Eric Maynor, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Regardless, they have kept the crux of their team in shape.

“We’re looking forward to trying to figure those things out,” Presti said, “and having Serge in place is certainly a benefit for our organization moving forward.”