At the moment, the last thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans want to contemplate is the possibility of losing reigning Sixth Man of the Year this summer.
A return to OKC still isn't entirely out of the question, and those fans are no doubt reminding themselves of just that on a daily basis. If GM Sam Presti can make it work, you'd certainly think that he would—even if it means trading Kendrick Perkins (and the chunk of change he's owed) in the next year or two.
Of course, the organization may decide that another massive, long-term contract is one too many. Perhaps it will reason that if it is going to spend that kind of money, it won't be on Harden.
There are any number of financial and basketball reasons Presti could go in another direction. If he does, who will pounce on Harden first?
ESPN's Marc Stein has some ideas:
These are interesting scenarios to be sure, albeit for very different reasons—and certainly not the only scenarios.
Here's a look at the best destinations for James Harden in 2013.
The Dallas Mavericks' interest in James Harden will depend on how the O.J. Mayo experiment works out this season.
He has a player option to remain with the Mavs next season, but he probably won't have to use it if he has a good enough year to attract lucrative, long-term offers this summer (including one from Dallas). The Mavs think he can still become a star, and if they're right, adding Harden to the fold wouldn't make much sense.
If the Thunder hold off on an extension, offer Harden a qualifying offer and opt to wait out his restricted free agency, the Mavs could be even more reticent to get involved.
Nevertheless, there's certainly a world in which Harden goes to Dallas.
If Mayo struggles this season and the Thunder make it clear they're moving on without Harden, the Mavs would presumably be interested. Even if Mayo picked up his player option, there's no reason he couldn't coexist with Harden for one season—they both have sixth-man experience.
The Houston Rockets snagged one fan-favorite this summer, so why not another?
Anyone wondering why James Harden would sign with the Rockets should remember there's a good reason Jeremy Lin decided to do the same. GM Daryl Morey has assembled a talented young roster that could do some good things going forward.
Shooting guard Kevin Martin's contract expires at season's end, so Houston would have a spot for Harden to take on a starting role and instantly become one of the franchise's two faces.
Harden recently turned 23, so he'd fit into Houston's youth movement pretty seamlessly. What looks to otherwise be a somewhat lengthy rebuild could become a much quicker turnaround overnight.
The Suns also just happen to be a perfect fit.
The starting lineup features up-and-coming talent at the point (Goran Dragic), on the wing (Michael Beasley) and in the paint (Marcin Gortat). Harden would be an upgrade at shooting guard over Shannon Brown, and he'd have the opportunity to become the organization's go-to guy from day one.
Phoenix has to like the idea too.
This club probably won't draw many top-shelf free agents, but Harden's connection to the area makes him one of the more likely possibilities.
The Portland Trail Blazers seem to be pretty happy with Wesley Matthews at shooting guard, but it's hard to believe they wouldn't be a bit happier with James Harden.
Matthews is probably the better defender at this point, and he may be a better spot-up shooter from the perimeter as well. But, Harden has a higher ceiling, and he does a better job of creating his own shot and getting to the charity stripe.
In other words, he can do the kind of things that will ensure he produces at a high level for years to come.
More importantly, Harden just looks like he should be in Portland—or at least in an episode of Portlandia.
Starting shooting guard Tony Allen will be a free agent after this season, and even if he sticks around the Memphis Grizzlies, the club could be looking for a perimeter guy who can get into the paint.
With Rudy Gay and Mike Conley doing so much of their damage from the perimeter and mid-range, Harden's crafty ability to get to the rim would add a new dimension to the Grizzlies' offense. He'd bring life to an offense that can become stagnant at the worst possible times.
Memphis would have to work out a sign-and-trade to acquire Harden, but such a deal isn't out of the question.
Some relatively inexpensive assets and cap relief would probably get the job done.
Kendrick Perkins seems to think the Oklahoma City Thunder are on their way to keeping Harden, and you'd have to believe his sources are every bit as good as Marc Stein's.
The Thunder have discovered a formula that works. Letting that formula fall apart is a risky proposition. The team wouldn't instantly implode, but there's no guarantee it would remain a serious contender.
At the moment, OKC looks like it contend for the better part of a decade. Without Harden, though, much would depend on the kind of supporting cast with which GM Sam Presti could surround Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each year.
Harden reduces the team's need to generate a constant supply of cheap, effective role players.
From the Thunder's standpoint, it's much harder to replace someone like Harden externally than it is to move him in the event something goes wrong.
Chances are Harden doesn't go far this summer after all.