June 16, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) during practice for game three of the 2012 NBA finals against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Thunder GM Sam Presti upfront that signing James Harden will be very difficult

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

The Oklahoma City Thunder held a press conference yesterday to officially announce the Serge Ibaka 4-year, $49 million contract extension.

The focus was supposed to be on Ibaka but it would predictably turn to James Harden’s situation.

“James is somebody we value,” Thunder GM Sam Presti told The Oklahoman. “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. 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.”

That’s the least confident we’ve heard Presti or anyone with the Thunder in talking about Harden’s future with the team. But we still can’t forget that by working hard with Ibaka to sign him for less than the max, the plan is still to get Harden to stay as well.

Ibaka said that money was very important to him but it was even more important to stay in Oklahoma City.

“For me it was important for me to stay, and finish what we started. And I think we can do it,” Ibaka told the Daily Thunder. “And I think this is my place, where I need to be. I don’t care what people say about this city or big city, no, I’m happy here.”

The Thunder organization loves everything about Ibaka and rightfully so. He has drastically improved since his first game in the NBA, which Presti and Scott Brooks reminisced on at the press conference. The potential Ibaka has shown in his first three seasons puts him in a pretty rare class within the current NBA landscape. There just aren’t a lot of bigs that can impact a game like him.

This isn’t to say that Harden is possibly less valuable than Ibaka and the Thunder are choosing Ibaka instead of him. Harden together with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook produced at a historical level last season in terms of a trio. Harden was as important as just about anyone in the Thunder’s run to the NBA Finals.

The Thunder have until Oct. 31 to reach an agreement with Harden on a contract extension. If Harden has bought into what all of his teammates have with what the Thunder are trying to do and the sacrifices necessary to make it happen, then he will be with the Thunder down the road.

But maybe Harden wants that big payday, a slightly bigger check than he’d be receiving in OKC. Maybe Harden wants to become “the man” and have his own team, although there is really no sign of Harden thinking that way.

With the deadline drawing near to sign Harden, Presti reminded everyone that it isn’t going to be easy to keep him. It’s a tough reality to deal with but Thunder fans should still be more optimistic than not that an agreement will be reached to keep Harden long-term.

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Tags: James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder Sam Presti Serge Ibaka

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