Oklahoma City Thunder: Could James Harden Leave If Money's Not Right?

Benjamin J. BlockCorrespondent IISeptember 11, 2012

Oklahoma City Thunder: Could James Harden Leave If Money's Not Right?

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    Could James Harden leave the Oklahoma City Thunder if the money isn't right? In a word, yes.

    The situation of should he stay or should he leave, is very uncomplicated.

    The 2012 Sixth Man of the Year needs to decide what is more important, money, or being part of a team that's a perennial favorite to win the championship in the foreseeable future.

    It appears that Harden won't be able to have his cake and eat it too. Meaning, he likely won't get a hefty extension and get to stay with the Thunder.

    With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka signed to long-term deals, Harden's impending contract negotiation will be difficult to navigate.

    This is usually the moment where the 'business' side of sports rears its ugly head.

    Remember the Lamar Odom situation that played out after Odom won the 2011 Sixth Man of the Year with the Los Angeles Lakers?

    Not to compare Odom's circumstances to Harden's, but we could be looking at two consecutive players to have won the Sixth Man of the Year award, and then leave town.

    Winning this award apparently brands you as being way too talented to be just another bench player, but not quite worthy of warranting that max contract.

    It's almost like this award is given out to satisfy the recipient's ego, but not their pockets.

    Let's take a look at why Harden will leave OKC if the money isn't right. 

The Disrespect Factor

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    Why would Harden and the Thunder even consider parting ways after they almost won the championship last season?

    There's 48 million reasons why.

    Ibaka's four-year $48 million contract extension opened up speculation that the Thunder value Ibaka more than Harden.

    OKC already has Westbrook and Durant locked into max contracts, and Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are earning hefty paychecks.

    Unless GM Sam Presti is willing to sign Harden to a big extension and subsequently pay a very costly luxury tax, Harden might be forced to go after a max contract extension elsewhere. 

    All signs point to the bearded man leaving Oklahoma City to chase the almighty dollar.

Home Sweet Home?

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    James Harden is from the Arizona area, he went to college at Arizona State, and all indications point to him targeting the Phoenix Suns for a max deal.

    According to the Arizona Republic, Harden rationalized his feelings on if he would like to play for Phoenix.

    "Yeah," he said. "Of course. I love it there. My mom lives there still. So that's definitely my second home as far as my comfort level and going to school there. But obviously, I'm with the Thunder right now and what we have is special."

    It's clear that Harden is saying all the right things, hopeful that everything works out in Oklahoma City.

    He's leaving the proverbial door open a crack, as if to hint to the Thunder that he's earned a big contract extension, and that he might explore other options if OKC doesn't step up.

    The Thunder walk a precarious line with Harden as he's heading into the final year of his contract.

He's Not Unique

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    As much as Harden's style of play and energy fits in with OKC, he is a dime-a-dozen player in the NBA.

    Not to diminish his talent and value, but actions speak louder than words.

    Presti and the Thunder chose to pay Ibaka over Harden, because he understands that players like Ibaka don't come around the league too often.

    Harden shouldn't expect any significant extension from the Thunder, and if money is that important to the 23-year-old, he'll go after his max contract elsewhere.

Loyalty

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    The days of starting and finishing with the same team, are a thing of the past.

    With a higher luxury tax in place, as stated in the recently revised Collective Bargaining Agreement, loyalty has become an afterthought, as dollars and contracts are paramount to owners in the NBA.

    Maybe under the old CBA, Harden could have gotten his dollars and remained with OKC.

    In an article by Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Presti breaks down the Thunder's contractual obstacles they face, in large part to the new CBA.

    “We said all along that there are going to be some inherent challenges for our team and our organization just based on the system,” Presti said of the new labor contract. “We never tried to paint that in a different light.

    That's Presti's way of telling Harden that the Thunder would love him to stay, just not for a lot of money.

    Which brings us back to the original question, could Harden leave if the money isn't right?  

    Sorry Thunder fans, Harden's departure looks inevitable.