James Harden is set to be a restricted free agent after the 2013 season, and barring any serious injuries, he will receive max-contract offers from multiple teams.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder don't want to see Harden leave town, they may not have a choice. If the Thunder were to sign him to a long-term contract, the majority of their money would be tied up in four players.
Jenni Carlson of newsok.com speculates that it may be close to be impossible for the Thunder to re-sign Harden.
According to Carlson, Thunder GM Sam Presti said the following about the Harden situation:
...By the same token, we've been very upfront and transparent with everybody that we have some inherent challenges that we face as an organization as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement. I know we'd love to have him here. I think James would like to be here as well. But at the end of the day... you have to find a way to make it work for everybody.
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all signed to lucrative long-term contracts, re-signing Harden would put the Thunder on the brink of the luxury tax.
Considering that under the new CBA the luxury tax has only gotten more expensive, it appears to be unlikely that owner Clayton Bennett would authorize a big contract for Harden.
If Harden hits restricted free agency next summer,—something that seems very likely at this point—the Thunder will be faced with a very tough and expensive decision.
Presti could try to trade Harden before the trade deadline, but it's unlikely that he would be able to make the team any better in the short term by doing so. The Thunder are focused on winning the 2013 NBA title, and Harden's presence on the roster makes them one of the favorites.
Looking into my crystal ball, I see Harden leaving Oklahoma City next summer and signing a max contract with the Phoenix Suns.