At least for now.
Harden on if he thinks a deal will get done before Oct. 31: "Yeah."— Royce Young (@dailythunder) October 1, 2012
Whether OKC could afford 2012's Sixth Man of the Year has been the lone doubt amidst understandably high hopes for the future, a future that has dynastic potential written all over it. Harden's willingness to accept something less than a max-level extension may have something to do with his optimism.
General manager Sam Presti hadn't sounded especially optimistic about the situation as of late, and you can understand why.
In addition to Ibaka's new deal (worth nearly $50 million), the Thunder also owe Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins a ridiculous amount of money. The first of those deals to come off the books will be Perkins' in the summer of 2015.
You can see why Harden has at times seemed the odd man out.
But no one's interested in experiencing life without him. As potent as this starting unit is, the bench leaves something to be desired without Harden's dynamic scoring ability. The 23-year-old scores inside and out, gets to the free-throw line regularly and has become a solid distributor to boot.
And he plays hard.
In sum, his 2011-12 effort was good enough for averages of 16.8 points, 3.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds—and of course those well-deserved sixth-man honors. Without Harden, the Thunder would be missing that spark that championship teams need.
They'd also be missing their third option on offense, who finishes games despite coming off the bench to start them. OKC needs such an option to take some of the pressure off Durant and Westbrook in crunch time, forcing defenders to divide their attention among a trio of versatile scorers.
Extending Harden would complete a title-contending picture that's been years in the making, the rare rebuilding effort that goes as planned without the aid of major trades and free-agent acquisitions.
More practically speaking, he'd ensure Oklahoma City remains a threat to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The organization could wait to sign Harden once he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2013, but taking care of business now averts what could otherwise become an ongoing distraction. You can imagine the speculation that OKC would rather trade Harden in February than lose him for nothing.
No team in the league has a more promising (or accomplished) young core, and it's hard to ignore the sense that this club could outlast older rivals like the Lakers and Miami Heat.
So long as Harden sticks around, anyway.