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Thunder signing James Harden 'might' be impossible

To keep the franchise under the luxury tax, the decision of letting the popular Harden leave OKC might be necessary
by Jenni Carlson Published: September 10, 2012

Do that, and the consequences are serious.

Go over by $9 million — which the Thunder likely would if it pays Harden what he's expected to be worth on the open market — and the Thunder would owe $14.5 million in luxury tax. Add that to the salaries, and the team would be on the hook for nearly $100 million.

In any market, that's a big chunk of change for an NBA franchise. In Oklahoma City, that level of financial obligation could be crippling.

That's a lesson Presti learned in San Antonio. He was with the Spurs when they had to make some difficult and unpopular decisions because of finances.

In 2003, Stephen Jackson became a darling in San Antonio. He endeared himself to Spurs fans by making big shot after big shot in the playoffs, capped with several 3-pointers down the stretch in the championship-clinching game of the Finals.

With Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili already on the roster, the Spurs offered Jackson a three-year, $10 million deal after the season.

He walked.

Fans freaked.

What the Spurs did was not popular, but because they are a small-market franchise, they have made a commitment to be frugal about finances. That's one of the reasons they've been able to maintain success over several decades. Short-term sacrifices (and PR hits) for long-term stability.

You'd better believe Presti will do the same with the Thunder.

That reality might be starting to dawn on Thunder fans, but Monday afternoon, it seemed to have already set in with those close to the situation. As soon as the subject of Harden's contract arose, Ibaka and Thunder coach Scott Brooks went completely and totally stone faced.

Will signing Harden be impossible?

Sure looked and sounded that way.

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