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It’s not exactly big, breaking, drop-everything-overwhelming news. But it kind of is.
According to Chris Broussard of ESPN.com, James Harden wants a max extension. Which is kind of sort of relevant considering not only has Harden indicated he’d be willing to make future sacrifices to stay with in Oklahoma City, a place he’s said over and over he wants to be, but also because most feel that the Thunder can’t handle giving him that level of a deal.
It’s pretty darn obvious that Harden is a max level kind of player and that if he were to reach restricted free agency, he’s certainly warrant a max offer sheet from somewhere. But there’s been the feeling that Harden might take less, largely because he himself indicated as such.
“This team is like a family,” Harden said in June. “Like, we’re really brothers. We hang out most of the time every single day. You won’t find any other team like this. I love it here … This is something special here. A dynasty is being built here. So we’re winning, we’re having fun and we’re brothers. The other stuff, you can’t buy it.”
But if Harden wants the max? That complicates his future with the Thunder greatly. This whole thing is kind of a game of chicken, waiting to see who blinks first. The Thunder have until Oct. 31 to ink Harden to an extension before he becomes a restricted free agent and opens leaves OKC to the wolves of the NBA marketplace. Both sides know the situation well, and know what’s on the line.
There is a difference though in someone wanting the max and only accepting it. Harden obviously wants the most money he can get. Whether or not he’s planning on standing his ground on it is still to be determined.
If OKC were to give Harden what he wants — reportedly — that would be a four-year, $63 million deal. Which would put OKC’s luxury tax payment in 2014 at around $23 million, assuming the NBA’s salary cap remains the same. For contrast, an extension like Ibaka signed (four years, $48 million), would pull that number down to $15.6 million in 2014. And if the Thunder signed Harden to the discounted deal and amnestied Kendrick Perkins, the payment is only about $1.7 million. So you can see what’s at stake here.
The Thunder know what they’re willing to spend. Harden has the number in his head of what he wants. And he can absolutely get it somewhere else. The Thunder may be willing to hit that number themselves and are trying to string this out hoping Harden bites like Serge Ibaka did, or they really and truly aren’t comfortable dropping another max deal. Anything less than the max for Harden is him giving up money and an obvious declaration that he values playing in OKC more than he does money.
So either there’s a compromise and Harden stays, or things complicate even more with him hitting the market next summer. There are teams waiting to bite — Phoenix, Houston, Dallas — knowing that the Thunder would have great difficulty in matching. So if the Thunder are crossing their fingers and hoping the open market underpays Harden, they shouldn’t hold their breath.
Perk said the Thunder were “getting close” to Harden and while that’s evidently not exactly the case, he does have a point that getting Harden in camp might bring back those sentiments he had after the season. It might bring back the emotions and feelings of a dynasty, of family, of winning. Because if he places money over that stuff, he might not be a part of that stuff.
Talks with Harden are ongoing, which means the Thunder haven’t drawn a line in the sand or made some kind of decision picking Ibaka over him. They want Harden back desperately. But this is a negotiation with both sides trying to get everything out of a deal that they want. It’s the way it works. Like Sam Presti said recently, that’s the challenge OKC faces.
Harden understands though that if he truly wants to remain with the Thunder, as he’s said repeatedly, his best chance to do so will come via an extension before the deadline. Much like Ibaka did just a few weeks ago. It’s his choice, it’s his life, it’s his money, it’s his career. He’s free to do what he wants to do. But he knows the pros and cons of both. Does he value an extra three, maybe four million a year over playing for a title contending team? That’s the decision he’s making.
If he does, then he might have to be starting over with a new family and trying to build that dynasty somewhere else. Without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.