Serge Ibaka was asked about his contract extension kicking in next season and almost immediately unleashed an uncontrollable smile.
He darn near broke into song.
“Oh, money, money, money,” the Thunder forward said, coming close to reciting the catch phrase from The O'Jays hit song.
Ibaka, though, wasn't bragging.
“I don't think money, money, money,” Ibaka insisted.
That doesn't mean others won't.
When he returns for his fifth NBA season, Ibaka will be met by a foreign feeling.
Expectations.
The Thunder committed to Ibaka last summer with a lucrative new contract that will pay him $49 million over the next four seasons. The first year of the deal starts next season. With it, Ibaka will be expected to produce like a player earning nearly $12.5 million annually.
And the truth is there's no telling how Ibaka will respond to that type of pressure.
“The good thing about me … I never worry about what people say outside,” Ibaka said. “When people talk negative about me it gives me some (motivation). It gives me some (motivation) to go get better. It doesn't really bring me down.”
To this point, whatever Ibaka has done in each of his first four seasons has been a bonus. He was largely an unknown as the 24th overall pick in 2008. He stayed overseas for the first year after he was drafted, and when he did arrive in Oklahoma City, he stepped onto a team overflowing with talent in Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
The circumstances allowed Ibaka to develop at his own pace and do so from the background. Perhaps because of that pressure-free opportunity, Ibaka thus far has exceeded all expectations. He's compiled averages of 9.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots in 301 career games. Given where he started and how far he's come, Ibaka's career already is a success.
Only now, Ibaka is now longer the fifth best player on a lovable up-and-comer. He's now blossomed into the third best player on a championship caliber team — and is being compensated accordingly.