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Thunder basketball: Fans should enjoy the moment, the players who are here

Oklahoma City has a solid group of players other than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If one should leave for another team, the Thunder should remain one of the NBA's top contenders.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: January 29, 2012

The ink hardly had dried on Russell Westbrook's contract extension before some Thunder fans began fretting about the next two in line.

A signing that should have been celebrated as a deal that secured the long-term future of two of the league's top players — Westbrook and Kevin Durant — somehow became a cause for concern. Locally, the lingering question has been, will the Thunder now be able to keep James Harden and Serge Ibaka?

It's the NBA's version of borrowing trouble.

Someday, Oklahoma City surely will be forced to bid adieu to someone in its talented young core. But now is not the time to worry over how imminent that day might be.

Harden and Ibaka are eligible for extensions this summer. If deals aren't reached by Oct. 31, they will become restricted free agents in July 2013. That means the Thunder has their rights this season and next season, as well as the right of first refusal to match any contract offer they might receive from another team as restricted free agents.

But for whatever reason, a segment of the fan base can't seem to avoid anxiety about the future. It's the same stuff that rattled fans in Cleveland, and it's what's plaguing Orlando right now. The big difference is, unlike the Thunder, the Cavs and Magic never surrounded LeBron James and Dwight Howard with a stable of young complementary pieces that could grow together and sustain success.

Nevertheless, James and Howard still re-signed at the end of their rookie contracts, which should be a lesson to the fearful faction in Oklahoma City. That is, the most skilled players simply don't skip town at the end of their rookie deals. These second contracts, or first extensions, almost always get done when a team has a player worth keeping.

Plenty of young players have moved teams. But since the current rookie scale contract format of two guaranteed years and two team option years started in 2005, not a single impact player has gotten away.

The first-round selections that have moved on either couldn't play (Adam Morrison), were injury prone (Sean May), no longer fit and were allowed to walk (Raymond Felton) or were traded, either for better pieces (Martell Webster, Charlie Villanueva and Randy Foye) or to shed salary cap space (David Lee and Michael Beasley).

The Thunder lost Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick in 2007, because the two sides couldn't come to terms on an extension. But Oklahoma City traded Green to Boston and netted Kendrick Perkins to become the low-post defensive presence the Thunder sorely lacked.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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