One of the most enjoyable storylines for diehards over the past two NBA seasons has been the emergence of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, a high-risk draft choice with the 24th pick in 2008 who seems to add more skills to his considerable athleticism with each game. He's not just a raw performer dependent on dunks and blocked shots -- his jumper keeps getting better and his defense is about much more than gambling. It wouldn't be terribly shocking to see Ibaka become a bona fide star within two or three seasons.
"I'm very proud to start being part of an historic club like Real Madrid. I'm thankful for this great opportunity as a person and as a player. I arrive with humility to try to learn from the coach and the teammates and, at the same time, with ambition to try to help the team win as many games as possible while I'm with the team. I'm excited to get to know the team's fans".
This move makes lots of sense for Ibaka -- he played in Spain before making the jump to the NBA, speaks the language fluently, and recently became a naturalized citizen. It's not so much a change of scenery as a return to a world he already knows. Plus, the short contract length suggests it can be re-upped for as long as the lockout continues without forcing Ibaka to miss too much time for the Thunder.
However, it could also throw a wrench into the Thunder's plans for the season. As an up-and-coming young squad, they may be particularly well-suited to challenge for a title during a shortened season when many players come back out of shape. If Ibaka misses a few weeks of practice because his Real Madrid contract isn't yet finished, then the Thunder will be at a serious disadvantage.
In 1999, several teams had trouble when play resumed because their players seemed ill-prepared to handle the effects of the lockout. In 2011, with players like Ibaka keeping in shape with overseas gigs, it's possible some teams will play at a disadvantage because their players have been all too prepared to sit out a few months. Which, come to think of it, is probably what those franchises deserve.