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The Oklahoma City Thunder have already splashed cash at their two biggest stars and seemed to signal how they'd prefer to organize their Big Three going forward when they signed Serge Ibaka to a four-year extension this summer. The salaries of those three, along with that of Kendrick Perkins, will push the small-market Thunder perilously close to luxury-tax territory in the years to come.
Adding James Harden to the mix would all but assure that the Thunder wind up with an expensive bill of penalties, albeit not to the extent that the Los Angeles Lakers, the Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets will see.
Harden's done more than enough in his three NBA seasons to prove that he's worth the expense. The Bearded One's raw numbers—16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 39 percent from three—were impressive in and of themselves, enough so to earn him the Sixth Man of the Year award.
But it's the efficiency with which Harden stuffs the stat sheet that's most impressive. He checked in fourth in the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes, third in offensive rating, second in true shooting percentage and second in effective field-goal percentage.
Which is to say, James makes the most of his role as the first guy off Scott Brooks' bench.
OKC GM Sam Presti isn't stupid, either. He knows he needs to keep Harden around for the Thunder to contend in a stacked Western Conference. Harden's one of only three players on the roster, along with Durant and Westbrook, on whom the team can count on to score with any consistency.
Without Harden, the Thunder would have to lean even more heavily on the singular talents of their two All-Stars to carry the day.
It's no wonder, then, that OKC's front office and Harden's representatives are hard at work on an extension, one made all the more plausible by James' willingness to take less money for the good of the team.
If a deal doesn't get done soon, though, don't be surprised if Harden finds max offer sheets in free agency next July to be too tempting to resist.