Apr. 18, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden following the game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Rumors: James Harden now being targeted by Phoenix Suns?

The Oklahoma City Thunder locked up Serge Ibaka for the next four years signing him to a $48 million extension a few days ago. James Harden is next on the list for GM Sam Presti and the Thunder organization.

Harden will be worthy of a max deal next summer if he becomes a restricted free agent and doesn’t sign an extension with the Thunder beforehand. The Phoenix Suns are one team already expressing interest in signing him.

The amount of the deal, $48 million, will make it trickier for the Thunder to secure James Harden, who could command a maximum contract as a restricted free agent after the 2012-13 season. That could open the door for the Suns, who have maintained $15 million in cap space for next summer’s free-agency period and who have expressed interest in Harden behind the scenes.

Much will hinge on what becomes important to Harden. No one could fault him for chasing the money if a max deal (roughly $60 million over four years) is offered. But would the appeal of sticking it out with his Thunder teammates make him willing to stay for say, $52 million?

Harden’s mom lives in the Valley and the player has said he still has great affection for the area.

via Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic

It’s beginning to be very clear that Harden will have to take significantly less money to stay in OKC. That is the common theme around the team though as Ibaka could have easily sought out a larger contract next summer and Russell Westbrook also took less money when he signed his extension last season.

Harden went to college at Arizona State and even said earlier this summer he would consider signing with the Suns if presented the situation. Harden didn’t imply he wanted to leave OKC by any means and stressed his No. 1 goal is to remain with the Thunder, but if he does become a RFA, the Suns may very well be a likely landing spot for him.

Harden was particularly great vs. the Suns last season too. The Thunder played the Suns three times last season, and Harden set career-highs in points in each of the last two meetings.

On March 7 at home, the Thunder beat the Suns 115-104 while Harden scored 30 points and went 8-of-12 from the field, 4-for-7 from three and 10-for-11 from the line. Then on April 18 in Phoenix, the Thunder won 109-97 as Harden scored 40 points, went 12-for-17 from the field, 5-of-8 from three and 11-for-11 from the line.

The Thunder’s actions have made it clear though that they absolutely intend to reach an agreement with Harden on an extension. When Presti got Westbrook and then Ibaka to sign extensions for less, the reason was so that the Thunder could keep Harden as well.

Harden wants to remain a part of the Thunder and that’s probably the most important part of all of this. He seems the type who would be willing to sacrifice some cash to stay with his “brothers” in OKC.

It looks like he’s been having a good time lately too.

Tags: James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder Phoenix Suns

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