The Oklahoma City Thunder are not in the market for free agents this summer anymore. They have effectively filled their roster already with the signings of Hasheem Thabeet and undrafted rookie Hollis Thompson.
Next on the agenda for the Thunder is extending James Harden and Serge Ibaka.
Harden and Ibaka are up for extensions this summer and if they don’t reach an agreement with the Thunder, they will become restricted free agents next summer.
Harden’s worth is pretty obvious. If he is a restricted free agent next summer, he will be receiving max offer sheets from other teams. That’s what happened to Eric Gordon this summer and it will happen with Harden too.
The Thunder are basically going to have to convince Harden to take much less money or it will become very difficult to hang on to him.
Ibaka is in a little different boat, mainly because, barring a huge leap this season, he is not in the market for a max deal. But big men have always been overpaid in the NBA and this summer is another great example of how.
Just look at the bigs inking big contracts this summer. Brook Lopez got a max deal from the Nets, Roy Hibbert got a max offer sheet from Portland, JaVale McGee is getting $10 million per year, Ryan Anderson is getting $9 million per year and Omer Asik is getting $8 million.
Ibaka may not be on the level of Lopez and Hibbert yet but he has an elite skill and quality that is right now unmatched by any other player. Ibaka blocked more shots per game this past season than anyone has in about a decade.
Ibaka is also only 22 years old who is only going to get better and his potential looks even greater now that Hakeem Olajuwon wants to work out with him in the offseason.
The consensus around the Thunder camp is that they are going to need to convince Harden and Ibaka to take less money to keep them both.
Harden has already talked about doing so and his personality seems to fit that mold too. Harden will be in London this summer representing his country on Team USA along with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Players tend to talk about sacrifice and teaming up to form Big 3’s when they play on Team USA together.
Harden could probably end up sacrificing a few million and getting an extension that’s around $11-12 million per year. It will still be a hefty amount that will inch the Thunder closer to the luxury tax but it’s hard to imagine Harden getting anything less than that.
Ibaka is clearly in the market for $10 million per year and there might even be some teams that would throw more than that at him. The Thunder don’t want to end up paying too much more than this for Ibaka and are going to try and do everything possible to get him to sign for less.
Keeping Harden and Ibaka will make entering the luxury tax and its harsh penalties pretty much inevitable for OKC. They are already preparing for this.
The Thunder won’t be totally tied to keeping their Big 4 forever if they extend Harden and Ibaka this summer. There’s always the option of trading one of them after a year or two so that the Thunder can slip back away from the luxury tax to avoid the harsher penalties of being in it for consecutive seasons.
If the Thunder do get Harden and Ibaka to take less money, they will become that much more valuable on the trade market a few years down the road.
With Harden and Ibaka both playing in the Olympics this summer, extensions may not be getting done in the too near future. The Olympics begin July 27 and will end in mid-August. By that time we can expect to see Harden and Ibaka with their extensions.