Serge Ibaka and the Thunder finalized a four-year, $49MM extension over the weekend, a deal that will keep the big man under contract through 2017. It appeared likely that the Thunder would prioritize an extension for James Harden over one for Ibaka this summer, so news of Ibaka's agreement came as something of a surprise. With Ibaka, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook now locked up to expensive long-term deals, we'll have to wait and see if Oklahoma City can make room for Harden as well.
In the meantime, it's worth taking a look at Ibaka's new contract to see how much money the Thunder may have saved by getting something done early. First, let's compare Ibaka's career stat line to the numbers for a few other big men that have recently signed long-term deals after three NBA seasons:
It's worth noting that, besides Ibaka's contract, only Horford's was a true extension — Jordan and Gasol were both retained by their respective teams in free agency. Still, it's hard not to compare Ibaka's deal to the other three and like the value for the Thunder. While the Oklahoma City big man hasn't provided the offense that Gasol and Horford did early in their careers, and hasn't played equally heavy minutes, his PER stands up nicely next to the Memphis and Atlanta centers. And the Thunder got him for a lesser annual salary than Gasol's and committed to fewer guaranteed years than the Hawks did for Horford.
Additionally, because Ibaka has one year remaining on his rookie deal, the Thunder are more likely to get a little extra value out of the four-year extension by having it come closer to Ibaka's prime years — the deal runs from age 24 to 27. It makes the contract look better when compared to Jordan's, for instance. 2011/12 was the first year of Jordan's deal, meaning the Clippers were paying big bucks for a player that was still fairly raw and at least a couple years away from his prime.
The contracts signed earlier this summer by free agent big men also give an indication of what sort of price tag the Thunder would have been facing next summer. Roy Hibbert was quickly signed to a maximum-salary offer sheet in July, for four years and $58MM+. Brook Lopez received a max four-year, $61MM+ deal, despite missing nearly the entire season with foot injuries. And even JaVale McGee, who was a relative bargain at four years and $44MM, received a nice chunk of change for a player whose makeup has been questioned. Based on those deals, you'd have to think continued improvement for Ibaka in 2012/13 would have easily earned him a maximum offer from a team in need of size next summer.
As the Nuggets showed earlier this year when they traded Nene mere months after signing him to a five-year, $65MM pact, a long-term extension doesn't necessary mean the player will be part of a team's plans for years to come. But assuming the Thunder do intend to keep Ibaka as part of their core, they did well to get him at the price they did. A maximum-salary contract next year would likely have started around $14MM and increased annually, whereas Ibaka's extension will remain at $12.25MM per year. Over the course of the contract, Oklahoma City could save close to $15MM by locking the 22-year-old up early.