Serge Ibaka has denied reports that he wanted to be traded away from the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer due to his reduced role on the team.
Ibaka was sent to the Orlando Magic in June in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis, who was picked 11th in this year’s NBA draft.
The 26-year-old insisted that he wouldn’t have minded staying with the Thunder as he was living his dream of playing in the NBA.
“I never asked to be traded, even though there was a lot of media conjecture that I was unhappy with my role,” Ibaka wrote in a column for Sports Illustrated on Tuesday. “I had an exit meeting with [head coach] Billy Donovan and [general manager] Sam Presti after the season, and both went well. But this is still a business, everybody has to do what’s best for them, and I let my agent deal with the business side of things.
“I just focus on basketball. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go in and ask for a trade, and I would have been happy staying with the Thunder. Playing in the NBA was my dream, and I’d be happy playing anywhere.”
Ibaka enjoyed much success during his time with the Thunder as he, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant formed a formidable partnership. Despite this, they were never able to win an NBA title. The closest they came was in the 2011/12 NBA season, where they reached the NBA Finals, but lost 4-1 to the Miami Heat.
The Republic of Congo native admitted that he would miss Oklahoma City and wished his team-mates the best of luck. Earlier this month, Westbrook signed a three-year, $85.7 million contract to stay with the Thunder, while Durant opted to join the Golden State Warriors on a two-year, $54.3 million deal.
“Still, I’m really going to miss Oklahoma City. The fans love basketball there and the Thunder is one of the best organizations in sports,” he said. “It’s been a tough summer for them for sure. I didn’t know what Kevin was going to do but I know it was a big decision for him, and if it makes him and his family happy then I’m happy for him. I have the utmost respect for both him and Russell Westbrook.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed that our group was never able to bring the city a championship, but I had some great times there, and so many moments I’ll never forget.”
Having left behind the team he has represented for his entire NBA career, Ibaka is looking forward to making a fresh start with the Magic and admitted that he feels like he is back in his rookie season once again.
“Right now, though, I feel like a rookie again. I’m thrilled to be in Orlando,” he said. “I know that might sound crazy to some people, that I’m excited to go from a contender like the Thunder to a rebuilding team, one that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, but playing now for Frank Vogel, a coach who prides himself on defense, is very exciting for me.
“We have a core of like-minded, young, athletic players, which is going to be very fun. We are an old-school, smashmouth team, and I can’t wait to don a Magic uniform on opening night.
“The trade has given me a renewed opportunity to show you all of what I can do, and I can’t wait to see what happens in Orlando. We’re going to make some noise. It’s been a crazy summer, and I’m very ready for the fall to begin.”