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James Harden sounds like his heart is sold on Thunder, OKC

No other NBA team might have enough money to lure Harden away from Thunder Nation.
by Jenni Carlson Published: October 1, 2012

James Harden says he wants to stay in Oklahoma City and play with the Thunder.

He reiterated as much Monday at Thunder media day.

“Of course I want to be here,” he said.

But the clock continues to tick. Harden and the Thunder must agree on terms to a contract extension by the end of this month. An offer has been made, the sides are talking, but if a deal is not done by Oct. 31, the versatile guard will be eligible to become a restricted free agent next summer.

If it gets to that point, there's no way the Thunder will be able to match the huge contract some team will surely offer him.

So, the question is this — is Harden ready to leave all this?

That is the question Harden must ask and answer in these contract negotiations. Is he ready to leave a still youthful but supremely talented team that went to the NBA Finals last season? Ready to leave a nucleus that only seems to get better? Ready to leave a franchise that has built a culture that players rave about?

Sure didn't sound like it Monday.

Harden repeated his willingness to sacrifice to stay with the Thunder, asserting that a max contract wasn't a necessity. He even went so far as to say he believed a deal would be done by the Oct. 31 deadline.

“That's why I'm not too worried about it,” he said.

Maybe the Thunder can re-sign Harden after all.

Crunching the numbers and listening to the qualifiers thrown around by the Thunder brass, it hasn't seemed like keeping Harden would be possible. Surely, he would want more money than the team could handle.

Getting a deal done still seems like an extremely long shot — how much can the Thunder really offer without putting itself in luxury-tax jeopardy? — but listening to Harden on Monday, it didn't seem completely impossible.

“We've built a brotherhood here, a brotherhood that's hard to break,” he said. “Other teams are just teammates, but we're really brothers.”

More than anything, re-signing Harden is a test of the Thunder Way.

Sam Presti is the architect of that system. The Thunder general manager has always said it was his intention to build a successful franchise that would be sustainable over the long term, even in a small market like Oklahoma City. That meant drafting players who were not only great players but also great teammates, putting a higher value on sacrifice and team than on ego and self, then affording those players every advantage in training, fitness, nutrition and medical know-how.

The players, for example, are fed breakfast and lunch on practice days. That might seem small, but it's not something most teams do.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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