“This team is like a family. Like, we're really brothers. We hang out most of the time every single day. You won't find any other team like this. I love it here.” — Thunder guard James Harden.
It was June 23 when Thunder guard James Harden evoked hope that there was a way his contract extension would get done and he'd remain in Oklahoma City.
“This is something special here,” he told reporters at his exit interview. “A dynasty is being built here. So we're winning, we're having fun and we're brothers. The other stuff, you can't buy it.”
More than three months — 99 days to be exact — have passed since Harden made those statements and yet here we are on the first day of October with little to no progress in negotiations to report.
Now, with the Thunder kicking off the 2012-13 season with media day on Monday, we've reached crunch time on Harden's contract negotiations. The two sides have just 30 days to reach a deal. But as the clock continues to tick, it's starting to look like Harden is destined to become a restricted free agent and let the open market determine his value.
The sensational sixth man who once sounded so sure he would sacrifice something to stay with the team that drafted him now appears ready to ride out this stalemate.
If he does, that could effectively spell the end of Harden's time in OKC.
Harden is believed to be seeking a max contract, and it's common knowledge that he would be all but guaranteed to receive one from another team next summer. But it's also been well-documented how the Thunder can't venture into that territory, which means if this deadline comes and goes, Harden will soon be headed elsewhere unless he has a massive change of heart.
A lot can happen in 30 days.
Will Harden take less money?
Sounds simple, right?
But when you look at the Thunder’s track record, you’ll find that it’s not just talk.
Oklahoma City has an almost unique history of re-signing its players. The Thunder thus far has kept its core intact by committing to paying its players at market value, or somewhere close to it. But many of the players have helped the franchise as well with their own level of commitment.
Russell Westbrook, for example, didn’t get near the recognition he perhaps deserved for deciding to not milk the franchise for an additional 5 percent of the team salary when he inked his extension. As a franchise player, Westbrook could have waited to sign and qualified for additional dollars under a new provision in the collective bargaining agreement.
More recently, Serge Ibaka decided to forego the chance at more money and annual raises when he accepted a flat rate salary to stick around.
Nick Collison, meanwhile, agreed to a front-loaded deal. Thabo Sefolosha chose long term security over free agency. Nazr Mohammed returned last year on a one-year deal instead of seeking more security elsewhere. And Kendrick Perkins committed to his future in OKC just days after being traded from Boston — and remains one of the best bargains for a starting center.
Each of those players — along with Kevin Durant, who declined any opt-out clauses — stressed the importance of being a part of what the Thunder was building.
The one that got away was Jeff Green.
Harden could be next.