There has been James Harden talk involving the Phoenix Suns all summer long. Harden is the reigning sixth-man of the year, and an Olympic gold medalist; not a bad 2012 for Harden. Oklahoma City had two big time players who were in need of a contract extension, the block machine Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
It was ultimately Serge Ibaka they gave the extension to which at the moment makes Harden the odd man out. The Oklahoma City Thunder has until October 31st to hash out a deal with Harden before he becomes a restricted free-agent during the summer of 2013. Insert the Suns.
The Suns front office probably has a countdown clock in their office right now counting down to November 1st because should the Thunder fail to work out a deal with Harden by then, the Suns will have a great chance to sign Harden next summer.
At this point, the Suns and any other teams that are expected be in hot pursuit of Harden should feel good. The Thunder are very unlikely to give Harden a max deal; there are several reasons why, let’s begin with the most obvious, luxury tax.
The Thunder owe 62 million dollars to 8 players for the 2013-2014 season(the season after this one) assuming they don’t bring back Eric Maynor, Harden, and Reggie Jackson. So should the Thunder give Harden a max deal worth about 15 million annually, the Thunder would put themselves at approximately 77.68 million dollars in salary cap
which is 7.68 million dollars over the luxury tax, which means the Thunder would end up paying an additional approximate 12 million dollars in luxury tax if they offer Harden a max deal for the 2013-2014 season; this doesn’t even include what they’d have to pay other players to fill the other 3 roster spots, and keep in mind the higher the Thunder’s pay roll goes the worse the luxury tax. As popular as the Thunder are, they simply can’t afford to pay such high luxury taxes because at the end of the day they’re still a small market team.
Another reason the Thunder wouldn’t want to keep Harden is because if they do, they’d be very limited in adding other support casts such as keeping Eric Maynor, or signing other quality free-agent players. Should the Thunder not keep Harden they’d have 8 million dollars in cap space in 2013 to re-sign Maynor and sign other free agents as well.
The Thunder pretty much modeled their franchise after the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder most recently got a steal in the NBA draft in rookie Perry Jones III. Jones was projected as a lottery pick a week before the draft but after a poor showing at the draft combine and a knee problem, he slipped all the way to the Thunder as the 28th overall pick; an incredible steal in my mind. The pick of Jones definitely has paid off for the Thunder thus far; Jones is averaging 13 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2 assists and shooting 64% from the field. Which doesn’t make Harden expendable but it would soften the blow should Harden leave. Jones is only 20 years old, he’s got a huge upside but only time will tell if he’ll put it all together.
The Suns are concerned with two things right now; Harden’s extension and what will the Thunder do if they don’t extend him. The Thunder is set for another run at the title with the core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka. However if they don’t extend Harden, there’s a chance Harden could walk away for nothing. There’s also a very realistic possibility that the Thunder may trade him to another team so they’d get something in return for him as oppose to a steaming pile of nothing. Should the Thunder take this route, it will kill any chances of the Suns or any other team being able to acquire Harden next summer.
It absolutely insane how much of the Suns future depend on James Harden. Should Harden find his way to Phoenix, the Suns will be relevant once again and with the already solid core of Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley and company; you add Harden to that equation that team will be making noise in the playoffs.