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Signing James Harden will benefit Thunder now — but what about the long-term future?

One thing OKC wants to avoid is a trip down Sacramento Kings Way, which almost led to that city losing its NBA franchise.
by Jenni Carlson Published: October 17, 2012

What the Thunder would have to pay in luxury taxes to keep Harden is no drop in the bucket.

And remember, if OKC re-signs Harden, it would be looking at massive luxury tax bills for several years to come.

Really, the long-term consequence of re-signing Harden to a big deal is the biggest question here.

Could the Thunder pay the luxury tax?


But could it possibly pay upward of $30 million in taxes the first three years, then handle the bill in the fourth year when some very punitive repeat-offender taxes would kick in? Could it do that without jeopardizing the future of this franchise?


But there seems to be a decent amount of evidence that small-market teams who've paid big chunks in luxury taxes aren't better off in the long run.

I understand that the opportunity to win an NBA championship doesn't come along all that often. I also understand that the Thunder has a better chance to win one with Harden than without him.

But what about this team's chances in six or eight years?

The truth is the Thunder could sign Harden to a big deal, and everything could go absolutely perfectly. This team could keep winning like it has the past year or two, the money could continue rolling in and the luxury tax could get paid with no problem.

Or K.D. could blow out a knee.

Or the natural gas market could tank.

I'm not wishing ill on anyone, but the reality is things tend to go wrong. In a small market, an overleveraged team can get into trouble quickly.

So, yes, Mr. Simmons, the Thunder could write a big check to Harden, but what if everything doesn't go absolutely perfectly? What if the Thunder takes a long trip down Sacramento Kings Way?

This is a team that you've said you've become a fan of, Bill, and if it goes down that scary road, you'll be able to find a new favorite team.

Folks in Oklahoma City won't be so lucky.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. You can also like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at

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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