Amid all the complexities of the Thunder trying to sign guard James Harden to a four-year extension, teammate Kendrick Perkins offered a simple explanation as to what might seal the deal.
It had nothing to do with his passing remark 11 days ago that OKC was "getting close" to re-signing Harden. Perkins has no clue how close – or how far away – Harden is to an agreement. Perkins simply was expressing his confidence that last season's Sixth Man of the Year would re-up with the Thunder.
Perkins' true insight came when asked if he would reach out to Harden and convince him to stay.
Kendrick Le'Dale Perkins is a menacing guy. One scowl might be enough to scare Harden into signing, but evidently Perk doesn't anticipate the need for a stare-down.
"The thing is, once James gets here, there's nothing to be said," Perkins said following a Thunder Fit clinic at Deer Creek Middle School on Sept. 12. "He'll see his family (teammates) and that's all he'll need. He just needs to be here, so once he sees everybody's faces, that's enough said."
Peer pressure can be a powerful tool, intentional or not.
Perkins believes Harden's decision might be swayed when he re-enters the Thunder practice facility this week and exchanges playful banter with the group that finished one step shy of becoming NBA champs last season, when he rekindles those morning shooting competitions against fellow guards Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor and Daequan Cook, when he feels the comfort of being surrounded by young, talented teammates with a limitless future.
All this must happen naturally. There will be no intervention. Teammates will not confront Harden and guilt him into staying. It doesn't work that way among pro athletes, who are extremely respectful of each other when it comes to contract talks.
Thunder players want what Harden wants, and they will respect his decision whether he stays or goes.
General manager Sam Presti continually has stated the franchise's strong desire to sign Harden to an extension.
It's unknown where negotiations stand, but for OKC to even attempt to keep Harden is a significant financial commitment from a small-market team that already has exceeded the 2013-14 salary cap in guaranteed contracts (see chart).
The Thunder is willing to offer Harden what it can financially, but also what it can't. OKC ownership no doubt will pay an NBA luxury tax if it re-signs Harden. Exactly how much tax is the multi-million dollar question.
An already tight salary squeeze became even tighter after power forward Serge Ibaka agreed to a four-year, $49-million extension on Aug. 18.
Harden has until Oct. 31 to sign his extension. If not, he will become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2013, at which time any team can make a qualifying offer. The Thunder would retain Harden only if it matches that offer, which isn't likely.
Harden almost certainly will be gone by next season if he doesn't sign by Halloween. Another team will make Harden an offer after this season the Thunder can't logically match. That, or Harden will be dealt by the Feb. 21 trade deadline and some other team will inherit the right to match any offer for Harden. Either way, OKC would then have to fear the beard.
Harden must decide what's more important, the winning or the wallet?
- If it's winning, arguably no NBA team has a brighter future than the Thunder.
- If both are equally important, there doesn't appear to be a better winning/wallet combo than the Thunder.
- If it's all about the wallet, well, that's when the Thunder can't possibly compete.
The Thunder is well over the NBA's $58.044 million salary cap for the 2012-13 season, but remained under the league's tax level of $70.307 million.
In 2013-14, when the league's tax penalties become more punitive, the Thunder already has committed nearly $62.3 million in guaranteed contracts. That's just to seven players and does not include James Harden or Eric Maynor. Next year's tax level is expected to be around $72 million.
An NBA team must have at least 12 players on its active roster and can have a maximum of 15.
A breakdown of Thunder player salaries the next two seasons:
Player— 2012-13— 2013-14
Kevin Durant — $17,548,838 — $18,773,176
Russell Westbrook — $13,668,750 — $14,693,906
Kendrick Perkins — $8,300,531 — $8,977,437
James Harden — $5,820,417 — No contract
Thabo Sefolosha — $3,600,000 — $3,900,000
Daequan Cook — $3,090,942 — No contract
Nick Collison — $2,929,332 — $2,585,668
Cole Aldrich — $2,445,480 — $3,245,152-t
Eric Maynor — $2,338,721 — No contract
Serge Ibaka — $2,253,062 — $12,250,000
Reggie Jackson — $1,208,400 — $1,260,360-t
Hasheem Thabeet — $1,200,000 — $1,200,000-n
Lazar Hayward — $1,174,080 — $2,119,214-t
Perry Jones — $1,035,960 — $1,082,520
Daniel Orton — $854,389-n — $916,099-n
Hollis Thompson — $473,604-n — $788,872-n
Guaranteed total — $66,614,513 — $62,262,707