TREVISO, Italy – He has mostly spent the offseason as a tourist, spending the majority of the last three weeks in Europe while trying to forget whatever that was that passed for the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs. Serge Ibaka has traveled a lot of roads, just not yet the road back.
Escaping reality? Ibaka has made it a point not even to watch the rest of the postseason on TV.
“It’s too difficult for me,” he said.
One year later, after starting for the Thunder in the Finals against Miami, one Russell Westbrook knee injury later, after the health concern that altered an entire conference, Ibaka was in northern Italy on Sunday for an appearance at the adidas Eurocamp, not playing the Heat in Game 2 in a championship-series rematch. Memphis, not Oklahoma City, went to the next round and San Antonio, not Oklahoma City, won the Western Conference crown, and so Ibaka went away. Left the country, the continent and, in the real trip, left the sport.
“I haven’t really stayed connected with basketball,” he said.
Ibaka knows his approach cannot last forever and that he eventually has to return to the reality that, yes, the Thunder, a team that rightly considered itself a serious championship threat, a team that felt the experience of getting to the 2012 Finals had steeled it for a return to June, actually did lose in the second round.
Only now, Ibaka explained during a break in the camp, is he finally ready to get back to basketball.
“It changes the guys a lot because it makes us more hungry,” he said. “Everybody will be spending the summer working to come back strong for next season. It’s something we learn from our mistake and then try to get better. I can give you the example of myself. I can’t wait to get back and start working out. I’m going to be ready to help the team next year to another level.
“We learned. Of course. We learned something.”
“We just learned to be ready to play with any circumstance that can come,” Ibaka said. “We need to be ready. I don’t want to get an excuse about we lost some guys on our team. For next year, I think we’ll be ready. It will be really fun to see us play.”
For real head-spinning, though, all Ibaka had to do was look across the room. Kenneth Faried was also in attendance to speak with players, many of whom are hoping to get picked in the June 27 draft, the same Kenneth Faried who since the regular season ended in Denver with such high hopes for the future lost in the playoffs in the first round, lost general manager Masai Ujiri to the Raptors and then lost coach George Karl.
“I really have no comment for that,” Faried said. “It’s basketball. Stuff happens. It’s a business.”
Asked if he has talked to Karl, a coach he credits for helping in his early NBA development, Faried said, “No, I haven’t talked to anybody. I’m just kind of keeping to myself. I’ll just wait until I get back to Denver to hear everything.” He added he is not concerned about the sudden turnover around the Nuggets.