Thunder lock up Ibaka with reported four-year extension

The Oklahoma City Thunder took a big step toward sticking around as an NBA championship contender.

The Thunder and general manager Sam Presti still face difficult decisions in the team’s quest to remain a title threat for the long haul after reaching the NBA Finals last season, but reaching a contract extension with blocks leader Serge Ibaka is certainly a good start.

Ibaka came to terms on the deal on Saturday as the Thunder locked up another key member of their nucleus while also putting into question whether the small-market team can afford to keep Sixth Man of the Year James Harden beyond next season.

Ibaka posted on Twitter that he was happy for the chance to play for the Thunder for five more years. Presti didn’t provide details of the contract, citing team policy, but Yahoo! Sports first reported that the deal is for four additional years and $48 million.

“At 23 years old (by the time next season starts), we really do expect his best basketball to be in front of him,” Presti said in a conference call, hours before his wedding.

Presti dismissed the notion that Ibaka’s signing means that Harden’s departure is inevitable. But with more than $50 million committed per season to All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and starting center Kendrick Perkins, there is not much room left in the budget for Harden, who earned a spot on the US Olympic team that won gold in London.

Ibaka played for Spain’s silver-medal winning Olympic team. Both he and Harden were eligible for extensions to their rookie contracts for the first time this summer and were set to become free agents after next season.

“We’re going to continue our conversations with James. We very much value him,” Presti said. “We want him to be a part of our organization moving forward. We’re excited that he’s a member of the Thunder and we’re hopeful that he’ll be with us for years moving forward.”

To make that happen, Oklahoma City would likely have to go over the salary cap – set at about $58 million for next season – and pay a luxury tax or make other moves, such as using the amnesty clause to erase Perkins’ contract.

The Thunder have already let veteran free agents Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey sign elsewhere, and Derek Fisher remains unsigned. Backup point guard Eric Maynor, who missed most of last season due to a knee injury, also would become a free agent after next season.

“There’s still a commitment for us to try to find a way to make it work for everybody, but we know there’s going to be some difficult decisions that have to be made,” Presti said. “We’re looking forward to trying to figure those things out, and having Serge in place is certainly a benefit for our organization moving forward knowing that we have another core player that will be with us for the foreseeable future.”

Ibaka was the No. 24 pick in the draft in 2008, the same year Presti selected Westbrook. A native of the Republic of Congo, Ibaka remained overseas for a year before joining the Thunder and developing into a defensive stopper.

He led the NBA with 198 blocks in the 2010-11 season and finished second in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year last season after recording a league-best 241 – a franchise record 3.65 per game.

“He’s come a long way in a short amount of time, but I’ve seen a lot of hard work that’s gone into that on his behalf, and that gives us confidence that he’s going to continue to work at it,” Presti said.

Ibaka has steadily improved his offensive game, adding a mid-range jumper while starting to develop effective post moves. But he’s best known for his defensive impact, particularly after blocking at least 10 shots in three games last season – once as part of a triple-double.

“I think with Serge, he does so many things,” Presti said. “Obviously, his shot-blocking is a statistic that’s most pointed to because it’s objective, because it’s measurable, but there’s a lot of things he does for us in terms of just, I would say, deterring shots.

“He really helps our pick-and-roll defense and bails us out a lot of times.”

The Big 3 has chosen at PBA pick draft

June Mar Fajardo, flanked by No. 3 pick Alex Mallari (left) and second pick overall Calvin Abueva, is only the third Cebuano to be made No. 1 pick overall after Apet Jao in 1990 and Kelly Williams in 2006.

JUNE Mar Fajardo’s PBA dream is now a reality.

Described by one veteran coach as a “man among boys,” Fajardo was as expected made the top pick overall by Petron in a rookie draft that witnessed its share of surprises at a jampacked Robinsons Midtown Mall in Ermita, Manila.

Fajardo became head of a 39-man draft class that was one of the most talented in years as he became the first player with Cebu roots to be named No. 1 pick since Kelly Williams in 2006 – and the first homegrown Cebuano to become the top pick since Apet Jao in 1990.

The youngest in the batch at 22, he was also the 21st big man to head a rookie class since the draft was instituted in 1985.

“Watching him during the tryouts is like watching a man going up against the boys,” B-Meg coach Tim Cone gushed in describing the 6’9” Fajardo. “Actually, I feel like watching Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) coming out of the draft.”

Alaska’s bid to rebuild its fabled team after a woeful season got a big boost when the Aces picked NCAA scoring and rebounding monster Calvin Abueva at second overall, but the drafting took a surprising turn from there when Petron took Alex Mallari instead of a more heralded Fil-American, Cliff Hodge, with its second pick in the first round.

Mallari starred for PBA D-League Foundations Cup runner-up Big Chill, averaging 12 points and 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals. His versatility easily makes the Boosters a tournament favorite in the 38th season opening on September 30.

Hodge instead fell on the lap of the Meralco Bolts, but another surprise pick emerged at No. 5 when the Barako Bull chose Far Eastern University product Aldriche Ramos, who barely 10 minutes would be packaged in a trade for Sean Anthony and B-Meg’s second-round pick and 12th overall.

On the other hand, Barangay Ginebra utilized the sixth and eighth pick by selecting two explosive Fil-Ams in Chris Ellis and Keith Jensen.

The biggest surprise involved longtime amateur star Chris Tiu, a consensus Top Four pick who was shunned by both Ginebra and Petron and ended up sliding all the way down to No. 7 when he was picked by Rain or Shine.

B-Meg traded its no. 9 pick and forward Val Acuna to newcomer Global Port, who in turn gave up forward Sean Anthony to the Llamados.

Batang Pier went on to make one-time D-League MVP Vic Manuel the no. 9 pick, while adding Fil-Am Jason Deuchman for its 10th pick to close the first round.

Air21 opened the second round by selecting former Mapua slotman Yousi Taha, while Barako Bull used the 12th pick it got from the B-Meg trade to draft former San Beda standout Dave Marcelo.

B-Meg selected former NU Bulldog banger Jewel Ponferada as the no. 13 pick, while Global Port got for its 14th pick, 5’11” playmaker Alfred Mandani, who saw action for Blackwater in the D-League.

Barako Bull continued to shore up its backcourt by tapping former Adamson point guard Lester Alvarez along with ex-Ateneo guard Emman Monfort with the 15th and 16th pick.

Meralco got to pick Fil-Am Kelly Nabong at No. 17 after trading its 2015 second-round right to Rain or Shine.

Rounding out the second-round draftees were Woody Co (Barako Bull), former UE guard Raphy Reyes (Alaska) and Jaypee Belencion (Talk ‘N Text).

Rookie hopefuls selected in the third round were Simon Atkins (Air21), Karl Dehesa (Alaska), Ryan Boado (Barako Bull), Janus Lozada (Meralco), Mark Sarangay (Petron), Mark Acosta (Global Port), Raymund Austria (Rain or Shine), Jerick Canada (Barangay Ginebra), Gian Chiu (B-Meg) and Jason Escueta (Talk ‘N Text).

In the fourth round, Alaska, Air21, Petron and Talk ‘N Text decided to pass, while Barako Bull chose Joseph Hermosisima, Meralco tapped Eric Suguitan, Rain or Shine selected Jewel Palomique, Barangay Ginebra chose Paul Zamar and B-Meg took in Ramon Mabayo.

The fifth round only had two picks – Virgilio Serios went to Global Port, while Virgil Buensuceso was drafted by Barangay Ginebra. The draft proceedings ended in the sixth round with Elliot Tan going to the Gin Kings as well.

British forward set to join the ranks of the NBA next season

Freeland will play for Portland next season once he has finalised the buyout of his contract, according to his Spanish club Unicaja Malaga.

A deal must now be worked out between the two clubs and Freeland regarding the 1.5million euro buyout of his Unicaja contract, which has two years left to run.

“Unicaja player Joel Freeland has informed the club of his decision to end his contract and move to the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA,” said a statement on the Unicaja website.

“After receiving this statement from the British player, Unicaja is now waiting to formalise a definitive agreement between the three parties involved; the player, the Portland Trail Blazers and Unicaja.”

Freeland will also need to travel to Portland for a medical, which could affect his availability for Britain’s final warm-up games for the Olympics, with the team scheduled to face Portugal in Sheffield on Saturday and Sunday and then the United States in Manchester on Thursday.

He was drafted by Portland in 2006 when aged 19, but the NBA team encouraged him to continue his development in Europe and he first broke through with Gran Canaria in Spain’s tough ACB league.

The 6ft 10in 25-year-old made his GB debut in 2006 and established himself as one of the team’s leading players with some outstanding displays in the 2011 European Championship.

English Premier League Matchweek 1: City leave it late again

The newly promoted side looked set to spring a shock at the Etihad Stadium when Steven Davis put them 2-1 up in the second half, but, as they did on the last day of the season when Sergio Aguero won City the match and the title in stoppage time, Roberto Mancini’s side came back to win, albeit not as late as three months ago.

In Sunday’s first match, Chelsea beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 with both goals coming in the first seven minutes at the DW Stadium.

The 2012/13 Barclays Premier League started on Saturday how it finished last season with 19 goals in the seven matches and players making their debuts dominating the scene.

Swansea City and Fulham enjoyed a free-scoring start to the new season, winning 5-0 against Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City respectively, while Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool reign got off to a losing start at West Bromwich Albion, his side going down 3-0.

West Ham United returned to the Barclays Premier League with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa, while fellow promoted side Reading were held 1-1 at home to Stoke City. In the late kick-off Newcastle United opened with a win, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1.

The only match without a goal was at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal drew 0-0 with Sunderland.

A good start of season in L. Messi together with Barca

FC Barcelona 5 – Real Sociedad 1

An electric opening to the game, with four goals in the first quarter of an hour, set the tone at the Camp Nou, where the Culé faithful were treated to the first victory of the season and Messi’s first goals.

But it was somebody who is not a specialist in these questions, Carles Puyol, who opened the scoring. The captain was, it is true, faithful to his style, when he thumped home a corner with his head, after rising above Agirretxe.

Real Sociedad replied quickly. A good pass by Illarramendi into the area left Chory Castro on his own in front of Víctor Valdés, and the Uruguayan made no mistake.

And then Messi made his appearance, with two goals in five minutes, the 11th and the 16th, which rained on the donostiarras’ parade. Pedro put it beyond any doubt shortly before the break.

The second half had the air of a friendly game about it, although it did provide a good news story: the return of David Villa, who made his first appearance in an official match for nine months, which is when he fell injured during the FIFA Club World Cup. Six minutes from time, Iniesta crept in from the left side of the area and found the Asturian ready to shoot. He beat Bravo with a well-placed, angled shot, and put an end to his own particular ordeal.