The biggest question: What did Kevin Durant think?
Ibaka had grown unhappy with his role, a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports, and was considered likely to leave as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Though Ibaka had not requested a trade, it was reasonable to expect that such a request could be on the horizon.
The first thing to understand is that the trade never would have been made if there was a chance it would have affected Durant’s decision in free agency; it won’t, said a person close to the All-Star and former MVP.
But it’s also about Ibaka, and the stuttering relationship he had in the locker room in OKC.
Again, what does that Durant guy think? His relationship with Ibaka never existed anywhere really than on the court, and both with Durant and Westbrook, Ibaka was often a target of on-court rebuking. The Thunder stars were often frustrated with Ibaka’s mental mistakes, with the heated arguments breaking out in huddles regularly. Durant is a team player, and defends anyone wearing the same jersey as him, but behind the scenes he was always open to moving Ibaka. In the summer of 2013, Durant spent a week working out with Kevin Love, and told some close to him he’d trade Ibaka for Love.
Kevin Love was way more valuable than Ibaka in 2013. Love made the All-NBA second team the following season. Ibaka received two votes. Wanting to trade Ibaka for Love does not mean Durant had a problem with Ibaka.
Of course, it doesn’t mean Durant didn’t have a problem with Ibaka.
Likewise, Durant and Russell Westbrook lashing out at Ibaka on the court doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem between them and Ibaka. Durant and Westbrook sometimes go after each other about breakdowns, and they love each other. That’s just the culture of the team.
Again, that doesn’t mean it was the same with Ibaka.
Some of this feels like the too-common tactic of demonizing a player or coach on his way out of town. If the Thunder leak negative things about Ibaka now, their trade looks better.
That also doesn’t mean the reports are untrue.
There’s a lot of give and take here.
I think the Thunder got good value for Ibaka, but I also think they might take a step back in the short term. Even if Durant and Westbrook truly had problems with Ibaka, they might miss him more than they realize. Not many players can protect the rim and space the floor like Ibaka. Ibaka’s shot-blocking covered some of Westbrook’s defensive mistakes, and both stars benefitted from Ibaka’s 3-point shooting pulling a defender from a paint.
Oladipo is an upgrade at shooting guard, and he and Durant share a D.C. connection. Ilyasova can shoot 3s and take charges if he’s not waived due to his barely guaranteed contract. Sabonis can score inside and rebound as he adjusts to the NBA. Steven Adams can fill a bigger role inside.
But Ibaka was important to Oklahoma City’s success the last several years. At minimum, there will be an adjustment period.
Does Durant really want to play through that? He’d also have to adjust with a new team, but the Thunder no longer offer as much comfort in their fit.
If you take Berger’s source at his word, this trade won’t affect Durant in free agency. If true, that’d be a little disappointing for Oklahoma City. The Thunder had to hope it’d improve their odds – and maybe it will once they have a chance to sell Durant on the deal. They seem pretty skilled at promoting their spin of it.