After next season the Oklahoma City are likely going to have to make a tough decision: do they want to keep James Harden or Serge Ibaka?
The new CBA is essentially designed to make sure that a team can’t pay four players near-maximum salaries. After next season when their rookie contracts are up, Harden and Ibaka should be in the market for max-deals.
It will be nearly impossible to keep both players because of this unless someone is somehow able to convince one of them to accept less money for a shot at winning a championship. If the Thunder do end up winning a championship this season or next, that will probably be impossible.
Right now, Harden has the better numbers of the two. He is the shoo-in Sixth Man of the Year winner this season averaging just under a line of 17-5-5. He has become Oklahoma City’s best playmaker and has the potential to be one of the NBA’s best shooting guards in the next few years.
Ibaka is a rare commodity in the NBA with his size and athleticism, leading the NBA in blocks at 3.5 per game. Ibaka can also give you offense with his improving midrange jump shot. Ibaka actually may be rarer of a talent than Harden.
So who should the Thunder pick between the two?
Harden is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the NBA but given the Thunder’s situation, I think I’d have to choose Ibaka between the two.
David Aldridge over the past week asked “people in the know” around the NBA who they’d pick and the jury was split.
The Thunder already are locked in to two players who demand the ball and right now Harden is more of a luxury while Ibaka more valuable. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant may not be the playmaker that Harden is but there is time for improvement in that department.
The other question here is if the Thunder are going to pick between the two, when do they act on it? Both are so valuable and it would make sense to try and get something back for one of them and the time for that might be after this season and in the loaded upcoming NBA Draft.
It’s hard to imagine breaking up this core so soon but nothing seems to make more sense. There are a few teams (Utah and Portland) with multiple lottery picks in the upcoming draft. Harden may be worth both as well as a 2014 first rounder, according to this article.
The Thunder have built this team through savvy draft picking and development of talent. They could continue this strategy and really develop a “Thunder model” by dealing Harden after this season.
It does seem unlikely that this would happen. It’s not as if it is something anyone would have heard rumored but the main consensus within the Thunder organization seems to always be their devotion to trying to win a title with this core of players.
The way the Thunder perform in the playoffs this year may influence the future quite a bit with this team. If they underperform and the makeup of the team is questioned then a change sooner than later may be in the balance.