With the deadline fast approaching for the Thunder to come to terms on a contract extension for shooting guard James Harden, a potential sliver of hope was heard Wednesday afternoon.
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, speaking after an appearance at a Thunder Fit event at a local middle school, said the two sides are “getting close” on a deal that would keep the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Oklahoma City.
“We're doing good. We're making positive steps going forward,” Perkins said of the organization's offseason. “We got coach (Scott) Brooks locked in. We got Serge (Ibaka) locked in. And we're getting close with James, and we're getting close to keeping our unit together. And we're still hungry.”
Harden is eligible to receive an extension of up to four years. Harden is believed to be seeking a contract worth the maximum allowable amount, which could be $58 million. But with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already inked to maximum deals, as well as Ibaka and Perkins recently signing high-dollar extensions, the Thunder might not be able to afford to keep Harden, with more severe penalties for teams that exceed the tax level set to kick in prior to the 2013-14 season.
If Harden doesn't sign a deal by Oct. 31, he will become a restricted free agent next summer, which would allow him to hit the open market but gives the Thunder the right to match any deal he might be offered.
Training camp is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, and Perkins said he is confident that when Harden returns, he'll naturally want to remain with the team that drafted him third overall in 2009, without anybody needing to convince him to do so.
“Once James gets here, it's nothing to be said,” Perkins said. “He'll see his family and that's all he needs. So once he sees everybody's faces, that's enough said.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Monday reiterated the franchise's desire to keep Harden around long term. But as is becoming the norm, Presti also stressed how the new collective bargaining agreement will force the Thunder to make some tough decisions. It could be a prelude to a deal not coming to fruition and Harden's days in Oklahoma City being numbered.
“James is somebody we value,” Presti said. “We think he's an important part to what we're trying to do with our team, and we're hopeful that he'll be with us. By the same token, we've been very upfront and transparent with everybody that we have some inherent challenges that we face as an organization as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement.
“I know we'd love to have him here. I think James would like to be here as well. But at the end of the day, those situations, you have to find a way to make it work for everybody. We're hopeful that we can do that. But I can't tell you what's going to happen there.”