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Thunder lets veterans leave, count on youth

Associated Press Modified: September 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm •  Published: September 26, 2012

Oklahoma City's top competitors for the NBA title have rosters filled with veterans, even more so after this offseason. Defending champion Miami added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and the Lakers brought in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The Spurs, who lost to the Thunder in the West finals, still have their championship-winning trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Presti didn't have many choices as he tried to keep Oklahoma City's star-studded nucleus together. Durant and Westbrook already take up a big chunk of the Thunder's salary cap room, and Ibaka's new deal throws into question whether the team can afford to bring back Harden even now.

"For various reasons, from a team-building standpoint or a financial standpoint or what it might be, you've got to make decisions," Presti said. "It's a good situation to feel like you wish you had more spots for everyone, but it's just not a reality."

Presti declined to provide an update on the prospects of extending Harden's contract and said: "I wish I could tell you I knew how it was going to end up."

"I think James would very much like to be here and he's a talented guy. I'm sure he's got to think through that on his end, do the best thing for him and his family," Presti said. "By no means is anyone in our organization going to judge him by his decision. He's going to do what's best for him and we have to do what's best for us, but at the end of the day you hope there's a collaborative mutual interest. Sometimes that can happen, sometimes it can't."

Presti wouldn't say if he considered it an option for small-market Oklahoma City to pay the luxury tax penalty in order to afford Harden's extension. Backup point guard Eric Maynor is also up for a new deal. Both would be restricted free agents after the upcoming season.

"We think highly of both of them as players and we're hopeful that we can keep them a part of our organization. At the same time, we understand that there's going to be some challenges that we face," Presti said.