It’s not all fun and games in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder are approaching a crossroad. I know it, you know it, they know it, and most importantly, James Harden knows it. The savvy combo-guard is a restricted free agent at the end of this upcoming season, and there is already plenty of speculation surrounding his potential departure.
Not long ago, it was the Phoenix Suns who were interested in prying Harden away from the Thunder next summer, but now, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, two more teams—the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets—have entered the fold.
I know at least two teams near OKC (Houston & Dallas) that are huge Harden fans and will have cap space to sign him to loaded offer sheet
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Harden is a borderline superstar, and despite his poor showing this past postseason, he clearly possesses the tools necessary to become one of the game’s most prolific scorers. So, naturally, there are going to be plenty of teams outside of Oklahoma City interested in acquiring his services.
That said, the prospect of losing Harden becomes very real for the Thunder if they opt to let this all ride out until next summer. Sure, he’s a restricted free agent, meaning the team can match any offer he receives, but the offers he is bound to receive will be max deals. So, why wait for the inevitable to happen? Oklahoma City must extend him a max offer sheet as soon as next season is over—it doesn’t pay for Harden to sign an extension now—or gauge his value on the trade market now.
No, you didn’t misread that, I’m being serious. If there’s any hesitation on the Thunder’s part to offer Harden a max contract now or down the road, they are much better off trading him to capitalize off his departure. Once he signs a max offer sheet next summer, if they decide not to match, they lose him for nothing, not unlike the way the New York Knicks got burned during the Jeremy Lin fiasco.
And Sam Presti and company simply cannot afford to let that happen. To watch a team like the Knicks, lose a player like Lin, who was essentially an overnight sensation is one thing, but to lose a star, a future All-Star and proven Olympics performer for nothing? That’s a different story.
Like it or not, the Thunder are entering the home stretch of the Harden debacle. There may be nearly a year to go before he hits free agency, but after ironing out an extension with Serge Ibaka already, the clock is ticking with Harden. The NBA may be a business, but just like any business, there are egos involved, and Harden’s is liable to get bruised if the team doesn’t show a genuine interest in bringing him back now.
Subsequently, for the Thunder, the time to make a decision on Harden is now, not later. They simply do not have the luxury of letting him play out the season to see if he’s worth big money; it’s too dangerous to do so.
Does that necessarily mean Oklahoma City must begin shopping Harden to a team like Dallas, Houston or even Phoenix now?
No, not if the team is prepared to actualize Kendrick Perkins’ latest sentiments. If the Thunder are prepared to promise Harden a contract at season’s end or can convince him to sign an extension now, then by all means, they should do just that.
But if there is any doubt, any inkling of doing the exact opposite, Oklahoma City must begin shopping Harden immediately.
Before it’s too late.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.