Thunder's James Harden Seeking Max Contract, According to Reports

James Harden is the final piece to the Thunder's championship puzzle. He knows it, the front office knows it, his teammates know it, and we all know it. We also know that his poor play in last year's Finals was a big reason why the Thunder fell to the Heat, 4-1 (a normal Harden might have tipped the scales in Games 2-4). We know what is at stake.

When you know what is at stake and value is being defined by both the open market and known performance, numbers tend to crystallize a bit. For Harden, that number is crystallizing around a maximum value contract.

According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Harden has indicated that he is looking for top dollar:

Despite what KPerk says OKC & JHarden not close to deal. Sides are talking. JH wants to stay but wants max. Let's see if OKC blinks b4 10/31

At this time, I'm seeing competing numbers for what that value would be. Royce Young at Daily Thunder estimates that the contract would be worth $63 million over four years, while SB Nation is reporting that the number is closer to $58 million over four. Regardless of what the actual number is, there is no question that it puts the Thunder into a heavy tax situation as early as 2014. Young even links to a nifty calculator that helps with the number-crunching.

Here is what we know and what we think we know:

  • Harden knows he can get that number. He knows he can either get it with the Thunder or he can get it somewhere else.
  • OKC management also knows Harden can get that number wherever he wants to. They have to convince him that it is worth his while not to, at least for the time being.
  • The Thunder were so very close to the Title last season, and with their nucleus locked up for half a decade, they are going to have the chance to create something truly memorable - a dynasty in the likes of the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls. That is not just worth money, that is worth immortality, the kind where people still come up to you and ask for autographs and interviews 30 years after the fact.
  • Harden has indicated repeatedly that he wants to stay in OKC - "This team is like a family...Like, we’re really brothers. We hang out most of the time every single day. You won’t find any other team like this. I love it here...This is something special here. A dynasty is being built here. So we’re winning, we’re having fun and we’re brothers. The other stuff, you can’t buy it."
  • His teammates all want him to stay. He was part of the Olympic triumvirate with Durant and Westbrook, and no doubt they all talked about what their future plans are. Durant and Westbrook are all-in for the Thunder, and I'm sure they worked to convince Harden to do the same.
  • Kendrick Perkins indicated that things are close. How close? Who knows more - the player's peers or the player's agent?
  • OKC management knew this day of reckoning was coming. There is no doubt that they began laying down feasibility analysis mid-way through last season, when both Serge Ibaka and James Harden began to spread their wings. They had to know that Harden would be able to seek a max contract or a near-max contract, because teams like the Rockets and Suns are so talent starved for offensive firepower.
  • I think it is key that Ibaka got signed first, and for less than his market value might dictate. He took less and Westbrook took less in order to make this whole construct more feasible.
  • In any negotiation, you always start at your personal high point, listen to the opposition's low point, and then work your way to the middle. This sort of bargaining is no different. And in a slightly different vein, sometimes you can actually gain leverage when you leave something on the table. Isn't that right, Teddy?
  • I can't help but think back to when David Stern made the statement that with the new CBA in place, teams like the Thunder will not be able to retain all of their young talent and teams overall will not be able to retain their competitive advantage through hoarding assets. Well, we just watched the Lakers do just that, acquiring two All-Stars to join Kobe Bryant in L.A. I think the OKC front office wants to show that the same thing can be done the Thunder way, and Harden will be the final piece to the puzzle.
My prediction - Harden signs a new contract by October 31 for less than the max (we'll call it $52 million over 4) and the rest of the collective NBA world either praises or curses Sam Presti as they cry tears of joy or pain on their huge pillows at night.
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