With Serge Ibaka in the fold, Thunder's focus turns to James Harden

Commentary — If OKC wants to keep its star sixth man, it probably will have to venture into luxury tax territory.
by Berry Tramel Published: August 18, 2012
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photo - Miami Heat's Chris Bosh, center, fights for position under the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka (9) and James Harden (13) during the third quarter of Game 3 in the NBA Finals basketball series, Sunday, June 17, 2012, in Miami. The Heat won 91-85. (AP Photo/El Nuevo Herald, David Santiago)  MAGS OUT ORG XMIT: FLMEH308
Miami Heat's Chris Bosh, center, fights for position under the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka (9) and James Harden (13) during the third quarter of Game 3 in the NBA Finals basketball series, Sunday, June 17, 2012, in Miami. The Heat won 91-85. (AP Photo/El Nuevo Herald, David Santiago) MAGS OUT ORG XMIT: FLMEH308

With Thabo Sefolosha set to make $3.9 million and Nick Collison $2.5 million in 2013-14, that means four guys that will be counted on to play would have to make the minimum, too.

Here's the truth. If the Thunder keeps Harden, it is headed for the luxury tax, which becomes very punitive starting in 2013-14.

An example: go $4.9 million over the threshold in 2013-14, the tax rate is 1.5, so a franchise would owe $7.35 million. Go $9 million over, which is about the necessary territory to keep Harden and put a decent team around the stars, and the tax rate is 1.75. The Thunder would owe $15.75 million.

Read that again. If the Thunder has an $81 million payroll in 2013-14, it also would have to pay the league $15.75 million in luxury taxes.

Harden probably is willing to sacrifice. He talked like it in June and he certainly acts like he wants to be part of the Durant/Westbrook show. The lingering image of the NBA Finals' Game 5 in Miami was Durant, Westbrook and Harden, arm in arm, watching the final seconds tick down and reminding each other that they didn't want to experience such defeat again.

“We have been and will continue to work with James in the hopes of him continuing on with the team moving forward,” Presti said. “I don't want to speak for James or any of our players, but I can say that he is a very big part of the Thunder and he knows how much we think of him as a player and a person.”

Still, no matter how much Harden wants to be here, he's not going to sign for $8 million a year.

And even with sacrifice, Bennett has to decide if his franchise, without major money coming from a local television contract, can approach $100 million in payroll costs. If the Thunder signs Harden, it will be a major step of faith for Bennett and his fellow owners.

Before signing Ibaka, the Thunder had two mountains to climb. Now that OKC has signed Ibaka, two mountains remain.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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