Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka have grown up together on OKC, forming a young, athletic and cohesive core capable of winning multiple championships down the road. Except, this isn’t baseball, and that pesky old salary cap could put a dent in their championship plans. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both locked up long term, and James Harden and Serge Ibaka are up next in the 2013 offseason when both players will become restricted free agents.
Thanks to Larry Bird Rights, OKC will have the opportunity to go over the cap, which should be just a shade under $60 million, to re-sign their stars. Except they’ll enter luxury tax territory which, thanks to the most recent collective bargaining agreement, will incur a hefty financial penalty. Realistically, we can’t expect OKC to go one dollar over the cap, and therefore re-signing both Harden and Ibaka will be impossibly difficult.
We know that at least one of the two will remain in OKC. And, according to James Harden, he’s pretty certain that the one guaranteed to return is himself. Here’s more, via Sam Amick over at SI:
“‘I’m pretty, a hundred percent, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be in Oklahoma City,’ Harden said with a slight stutter. ‘I’ll let my agent and Mr. Presti and [Thunder owner Clay] Bennett discuss all that, so I’ll let them handle that and stay out of it for right now and worry about the USA Olympics.’
When asked if he was at all enamored with the idea of being a more featured player elsewhere, Harden said, ‘I love winning. We have some great guys over here, something special, something I don’t think any other team in the NBA has – young guys who got drafted basically together, year after year after year. We’ve got something special, so I’m focused on what we have and trying to win a championship with these guys.’”
Harden’s answer is either some run-of-the-mill good-ole-boy narrative, or just the plain truth. Although it seems unlikely that Sam Presti would tip his hand to either Ibaka or Harden, it’s pretty clear that Harden is the more valuable player of the two. Durant and Westbrook eat up 50 percent of the cap by themselves, and the max money Harden will receive will push that number to 75%. Ibaka might not warrant max dollars, but something in the range of DeAndre Jordan’s four years, $40 million seems likely. That would all but swallow up every dollar of OKC’s cap, and that doesn’t even include the players already under contract (Kendrick Perkins and his $8 million annually, for one).
In any case, OKC is looking at some sort of roster shakeup next season.
What do you think?
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