James Harden is entering the final season of his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder next season. The Thunder are working toward signing Harden to an extension otherwise he would become a restricted free agent next summer.
Harden would receive a max-contract offer sheet from any number of teams next summer if he is on the market, a price the Thunder would rather not keep him at. Harden played two seasons in college at Arizona State and was asked if he would consider signing with the Phoenix Suns next season.
“Yeah,” Harden told the Arizona Republic. “Of course. I love it there. My mom lives there still. So that’s definitely my second home as far as my comfort level and going to school there. But obviously, I’m with the Thunder right now and what we have is special.”
Harden is just being realistic with these comments and isn’t trying to say he’d rather play for any team besides the Thunder. Harden went on to say how much he loves it in OKC.
“The kind of support we have in Oklahoma City, it’s the best in the NBA,” Harden said. “Phenomenal. Beards in the crowd, the whole nine (yards). The city is really something special.”
The Thunder would obviously like to extend Harden before next summer when he becomes a restricted free agent and that means likely asking him to take a pay cut. Harden talked about sacrifice at the end of the season and about how important it was to him playing with this core of guys in Oklahoma City.
Phoenix signed Eric Gordon to a 4-year, $58 million offer sheet this summer before the New Orleans Hornets matched the offer. If Harden is out there next summer, they’d surely offer him the same deal.
The Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook locked up through 2016. They signed Westbrook to a 5-year, $80 million extension this past season.
The Thunder had a chance to trade Harden earlier this year around the time of the NBA Draft. The Charlotte Bobcats were shopping their No. 2 overall pick and were reportedly interested in acquiring Harden for it, while the Thunder and GM Sam Presti were interested in draft prospect Bradley Beal.
The Thunder did not pull the trigger on the potential trade sending a clear message that they are devoted to this core of players and Harden in particular. It will not be easy to keep Harden and Serge Ibaka and avoid luxury tax but the Thunder are committed to seeing how far this roster can take them.
The Thunder are one of seven teams to never pay the luxury tax since it came into existence nine years ago. That is likely going to change if they extend Harden and especially if they extend Ibaka too.
They can do both and the thing that would make a team like OKC unwilling to pay the luxury tax is the harsher penalties for being over the tax line for multiple seasons in a row. By extending Harden and Ibaka, the Thunder could enter the luxury tax and for a season or two and then trade someone to get back out of it.
Harden along with Durant and Westbrook will be representing the United States in the London Olympics for the next two weeks so contract negotiations will likely be on hold until after then.