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Thunder GM uses all kinds of qualifiers when talking Harden

Sep 11, 2012, 7:58 AM EDT

U.S. Olympic basketball player Harden watches during a training session ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the M.E.N Arena in Manchester Reuters

The Thunder want to re-sign James Harden, to keep him paired with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. But those three have already gotten their new contracts.

James Harden wants to stay with Durant and the Thunder, to chase titles with them in Oklahoma City. But he’s a max player getting his first big contract and there is not going to be a hometown discount for the Thunder.

Which means to keep him the Thunder owners — with a team in one of the smallest NBA market — would have to pay the luxury tax. They have said they would, but how much are they willing to pay?

It’s been a much-discussed issue, but notice when Thunder GM Sam Presti is asked about signing Harden during Ibaka’s press conference Monday he puts a lot of qualifiers in his sentences (via the Oklahoman).

“James is somebody we value,” Presti said Monday afternoon. “We think he’s an important part to what we’re trying to do with our team and we’re hopeful that he’ll be with us…

“By the same token, we’ve been very upfront and transparent with everybody that we have some inherent challenges that we face as an organization as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement,” the Thunder general manager continued. “I know we’d love to have him here. I think James would like to be here as well. But at the end of the day … you have to find a way to make it work for everybody.”

We will see how this plays out. Maybe the two sides reach a deal on an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline, but if Harden is giving no hometown discount they may not. Then Harden becomes a restricted free agent — other teams can make offers but the Thunder can match. In a world where Brook Lopez is a max player and Ibaka gets $12.5 million a year, Harden is a max player and some other team will make that four-year, $58 million offer to him.

Then it will be up to Presti and ownership to match it or let him go. At that point there will be no qualifiers, the choice is a binary yes or no.

  1. loungefly74 - Sep 11, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    hmmm…without harden…it will be tougher for the thunder to attain their 1st title…yeah, they have zero. even with all the hype about them the past 3 years…they have zero. i wonder what happens IF they dont win it this year? huh…screw the Lakers and Celtics…its the Thunder who are on the hot seat.

    • usavebob - Sep 11, 2012 at 11:28 AM

      Harden’s value to OKC extends beyond the floor stats. Simply put, most fans love his beard, smile and persona. That said, expect the owners to step up within reason to keep the core together.

      • loungefly74 - Sep 11, 2012 at 8:30 PM

        oh gosh…if i was an OKC fan or part of the front office…i would do all i can for harden to stay in OKC. the guy is a gamer and a threat on the floor. you are absolutely right.

        well…my earlier comment was from my Laker-slanted-point-of-view.LOL as a Laker fan…i am praying the OKC screw this up!

  2. papichulo55 - Sep 11, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    OKC showed its hand when they signed Ibaka. Mr. Harden will move on. Maybe in time, the new cap strategy will spread top-shelf talent more evenly. I can definetly see international teams also benefiting, in the years to come.

    • cmehustle - Sep 12, 2012 at 7:33 AM

      Thats a decision made not from an emotional (fan), but from a financial (gm) standpoint. That makes sense, but you’ll probably get ripped for it.

  3. magicbucs - Sep 11, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    He’s going to sign with Orlando. Hennigan helped draft him at OKC and you know Hennigan will try to get him to Orlando.

  4. sageandjudahsdad - Sep 11, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    He’s NOT a max contract player. He is a nice complementary piece. AND he disappeared against the Heat in the finals last year.

    • paleihe - Sep 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM

      I personally don’t think he’s a max player…but in the NBA right now, many other people are. Eric Gordon, B Lopez, Ibaka makin’ boat loads…

      In regards to him disappearing in the finals, so did Lebron the previous year. Five bad games won’t determine his contract.

    • eventhorizon04 - Sep 11, 2012 at 10:49 PM

      It doesn’t matter what you think.

      One of the 29 non-Thunder GMs in the NBA will value him as a max player and give him that deal. I’m not a huge fan of Harden, but that’s non-debatable.

  5. yousuxxors - Sep 11, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    he woukd be better off as a centerpiece of another team. he is a great playmaker.

  6. skizzy79 - Sep 11, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Not a max contract player but he is just as valuable to the team as Westbrook is in my opinion. Very smart player who is fun to watch. I just don’t see them giving a max contract to their third option as far as play calling is concerned.

  7. sylpkt - Sep 11, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    OKC has no reason to sign him to a MAX contract now. Either he signs a discounted contract before the season or he plays the season out (and is motivated) to get the max offer which the Thunder can choose (and probably will still) match next summer.

    He might have to decide whether he wants a career like Joe Johnson (Huge money, but fringe All-Star on Mediocre teams) or Manu Ginobli (Plenty of Money, but Star on consistant condender).

    He’s the best SG in the NBA under 30, and demand for stars will net him the MAX contract he wants, but being on this team has already netted him multiple worldwide endorsments (Battleships & Adidas), so its not like he couldn’t make up the money elsewhere by taking a little less money to stay in the spotlight on a loaded team in OKC.

    • nbascreed - Sep 11, 2012 at 1:03 PM

      I’m not convinced that in a vacuum Jimmy is a better 2 than Gordon. I know he’s done more and you have to evaluate production, but Gordon is very tough in one on one situations and while I love Harden he gets a lot of his penetration of off high screen-roll.

      If forced to make a choice on the skill I most want in a two it would be the ability to create in one-on-one situations, the ability to knockdown jumpers (out to 3), the ability to defend one-on-one and then the ability to operate off of high screen-roll.

      One last thing though…am I the only one that looks at Jimmy as more of a combo guard. I can’t think of any two in the last 15 years who ran screen-roll so masterfully.

      • sylpkt - Sep 11, 2012 at 1:54 PM

        Yeah, Gordon is the closest to Harden, but if giving out large amounts of guaranteed money , I’d rather have the guy with a clean bill of health, than the guy who’s missed more games than he’s played over the last couple seasons.

        That being said, it’s really hard to play basketball in a vacuum.

  8. Mr. Wright 212 - Sep 11, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    The way this dude played in the Finals PROVED he is not worth max money. Had he played like a max player, they would have won the title.

    • eventhorizon04 - Sep 11, 2012 at 10:51 PM

      No it didn’t – and I bet there are more than a few GMs in the NBA that would be willing to offer him a max contract, regardless of what you think, so either OKC pays him that (or very close to it) or they lose him.

  9. lakerluver - Sep 11, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    Da BULLS!!

    • eventhorizon04 - Sep 11, 2012 at 10:53 PM

      Harden would be a great complement to Derrick Rose.
      Harden is not an elite defender, but he’s a willing defender, can create his own shot, can space the floor, and can handle the ball.
      With Rose on the floor, he’d set up on the wing to knock down 3’s, and with Rose on the bench getting rest, Harden could run the offense.

      No matter what OKC fans are saying after the Finals, Harden is a player that multiple teams would be happy to bid on.

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