OKC Thunder: James Harden back with his teammates, but for how long?

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER — Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins said he and his teammates won't need to have any interventions to try to convince James Harden to sign a new deal. Perkins believes Harden's decision might be swayed once he gets into town and sees familiar faces.
BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: September 22, 2012
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photo - OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER NBA BASKETBALL / MUG: Oklahoma City's James Harden (13) speaks during a press conference at the Integris Health Thunder Development Center in Oklahoma City,  Saturday, June 23, 2012. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER NBA BASKETBALL / MUG: Oklahoma City's James Harden (13) speaks during a press conference at the Integris Health Thunder Development Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, June 23, 2012. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

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.

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THUNDER SALARIES

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

t-Team option

n-Non-guaranteed

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