By Michael Kinney
The departure of Kevin Durant in the offseason was a monumental moment for the Oklahoma City Thunder. When he left the team to go play for Golden State, it swallowed up all the attention for much of the offseason.
However, the Thunder lost another key figure to the franchise’s growth. Serge Ibaka was dealt to Orlando in a trade involving Victor Oladipo. Ibaka had been in Oklahoma City almost as long as Durant and was a cornerstone to the team’s success.
However, with Ibaka making his return to Oklahoma City tonight for the first time since being traded in June, there doesn’t seem to be the same animosity as toward Durant.
“I know that it’s going to be exciting there to go back and play where I used to play for seven years,” Ibaka told NBA.com. “I still have a lot of friends there. But my mind is just going to be focused on the game. Try to help my team get a win.”
The visiting Magic and Thunder will tip-off at 7 p.m. ET at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Ibaka was drafted by Oklahoma City in the first round of the 2008 draft. After playing a year in the Spanish league, he joined the Thunder in the 2009-10 campaign.
In his seven seasons with the franchise, Ibaka led the NBA in block shots twice and made the All-Defensive team three times. With trips to the Western Conference finals and the NBA Finals, Ibaka will be reminded of a lot of history, on and off the court.
“It was tough,” Ibaka said. “Everything is tough in the beginning. I just keep my head up and try to learn. I was getting my English class every time I can. I know I’m going to see my ex-teammates. I know it’s going to be fun for me to compete against them.”
Yet, Ibaka contends he will be focused on only helping his Magic squad earn a victory. After losing 87-74 to Utah on Friday, Orlando has a record of 3-6 and players are struggling to adjust to new roles.
“We’ve got to play unselfish and trust the next guy — that’s the bottom line,” Magic center Bismack Biyombo told NBA.com. “It’s kind of frustrating that at this point we’re still playing like that. If we’re not making plays that are unselfish, then we’re not about winning. We have to be willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes.
“Games like today you have to willing to get out there and do whatever it takes and we just didn’t have enough.”
Scoring points hasn’t been Oklahoma City’s problem in its back-to-back losses. The Thunder posted 108 points Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
However, just over a week after holding the Clippers to 83 points in a road win, Oklahoma allowed L.A. to come into their house and post 110 points.
The Thunder know if they don’t tighten up their defense, the Magic can do the same thing.
“They’re a high-tempo team,” Oladipo said of his former team. “They have a lot of guys who can fill it up. They have a lot of guys who are talented. We have to do a great job of slowing them down. Their bench is really good as well so we have to be ready to play in all aspects of the game.”