Harden referred to himself as an “icon” the other day at Olympic hoop headquarters in Las Vegas. He wasn't being haughty, just honest. Despite a miserable NBA Finals, Harden made his mark league-wide during the Thunder's 20 playoff games, averaging 16.3 points. He even manned up and showed a willingness to defend the likes of Kobe Bryant (with some success) and LeBron James (not so much).
Harden's newfound stardom will drive up his price tag. But don't blame the Olympic berth. That's merely a symptom of his status, not the cause.
Harden, who until Oct. 31 can sign a contract extension but otherwise will become a restricted free agent next summer, was going to be a plum either way.
The Suns last week offered Eric Gordon a virtual maximum contract -- $58 million over four years — and no reason to think Harden wouldn't get the same. The Olympic selection committee has declared its preference for Harden over Gordon, but truthfully, anyone watching Harden improve exponentially from year to year already knew Harden's worth was at least equal to that of Gordon.
If Harden wants $14.5 million a year to play basketball, he can get it. And even if he's willing to take the hometown discount, that's rising, too, maybe as high as $12 million or more.
If Harden leaves the Thunder, it will be over money, not the city, and who would have thought it?