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Thunder: Can Oklahoma City keep its young core together?

James Harden and Eric Maynor, who are both eligible for extensions this summer, say they feel the Thunder is building something special. Maynor says “I feel like if guys sacrifice to get something done then everybody will be here still.”
BY DARNELL MAYBERRY Published: June 23, 2012

In late 2010, Nick Collison inked a four-year $11 million extension. It came with a $6.5 million signing bonus, however, that bumped the total deal up to slightly more than $17 million. Although Collison claimed on Saturday that he didn't sacrifice anything, the truth is he helped the franchise a ton by agreeing to a descending contract that will pay him a cap-friendly and relatively inexpensive $2.2 million in the final year of his deal. That's less than $1 million more than what the minimum salary would be in the 2014-15 season for a veteran with Collison's tenure in the league. It's a sacrifice that allows the Thunder to maintain additional room to pay its high-priced players.

Finally, just before the start of the 2009-10 season, guard Thabo Sefolosha took the security of a four-year, $13.8 million contract rather than exploring the open market as a restricted free agent. It's possible the defensive stopper could have scored more dollars outside of Oklahoma.

You can understand why Durant got every possible dollar.

But will the next batch of complementary players now fall in line?

“We'll see what happens,” Collison said. “Obviously, we want everybody back. We feel like we've got a really good core group, and we feel like we can get it done with our group. So hopefully it can happen.”

Maynor on Saturday spoke about how he specifically is willing to sacrifice. A potential NBA starter, Maynor said he would gladly remain in a reserve role behind Westbrook to preserve what the Thunder has built.

“Of course I want to be a starter in this league,” Maynor said. “But at the same time, wherever I'm at I want to enjoy it while I'm playing basketball. Sometimes it's not about that. Sometimes it's, like I said, about that word sacrificing. That's basically what I'm about. I just like to win and enjoy doing it.”

Maynor and Ibaka share the same agent, which puts them in a potentially awkward spot of seeing what's good for one might not be good for the other. But Maynor said he believes his teammates share his selfless mentality.

“Yeah, I feel like guys got that mentality,” Maynor said. “I think the main thing is we all play basketball because we love to do it. So we're trying to win. And I think this is a good spot to try to do that.”

While fans seemingly freak out about the upcoming contract quandary, players aren't expressing any anxiety about the matter — even if it results in the demise of a potential dynasty.

“As players, we don't fault guys when it comes to contract stuff,” said Collison. “That's between the guy and the team and his agent. When we all get together, that's when we play and build that team. But we don't judge guys on what they do in those situations. As a player, you're happy for your teammate that they're going to have good opportunities.”

And though it might sound silly in the big-money world of professional basketball, the Thunder's camaraderie could just be the conduit that preserves Oklahoma City's promising young core.

“This team is like a family,” Harden said. “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.”