Harden Expects Extension By Deadline
While the basketball world collectively ponders the state of James Harden’s contract extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder – and Thunder fans wring their hands – the player himself isn’t the slightest bit concerned.
In fact, he has clarity on the issue. The NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year is certain the two parties will reach contract extension terms by the October 31st deadline.
“I have confidence in my agent and the organization to get it done,” Harden told reporters gathered for the team’s annual media day. “They know how important it is. I’m sure it will be done.”
Harden remains under contract this season, so the core returns to make another title run. However, in the event an extension is not signed by the end of the month, he will likely become a restricted free agent next offseason. Has the delay been connected to his supposed desire for a maximum deal vs. the Thunder’s unwillingness or inability to commit to such dollars?
“No, no. I’m not really worried about that,” Harden answered. “I’m not focused on it. My agent and (Thunder general manager) Sam (Presti) will figure it out, all those numbers and things like that. I’m really focused on hooping. Bettering myself coming off that Sixth Man (award) and bettering myself as a basketball player.”
Given that proclamation, why then hasn’t it already been signed, sealed and delivered?
“Because of my agent,” Harden explained. “My agent understands. They’re discussing that; I let them deal with the contract situation. Like I said, my focus is to play basketball. Everything will figure itself out eventually, but right now, training camp is starting. I think everybody is excited to be here and to enjoy each other’s company. We really miss each other.”
“I’m not too worried about it,” Harden reiterated about getting the extension completed in time.
While many of his teammates don’t quite mirror that train of thought, their desires are fairly obvious.
“Everything is going to work itself out for the best, I think,” said a hopeful Kevin Durant. “James is a key part to our team, very excited to have him here. It’s something you’ve got to ask Sam and those guys in the front office, but I’m excited about the first day of camp and having James there. It’s going to be fun. I think going on his fourth year, just being with him that long, and the rest of the guys that long, just excited to start the season.”
“You’ve got to just leave it up to James’ agent and the Thunder organization,” agreed Kendrick Perkins. “Obviously everybody would just love to say, ‘Oh yeah, we got our team, James signed,’ but it’s not that easy. In a perfect world, it would be, but it’s still business they’ve got to take care of. At the end of the day, we still love James and embrace him and he’s still part of our team; so he’s here, and we’re trying to kick off training camp.”
Serge Ibaka, who recently received a four-year contract extension, weighed in on Harden.
“James is one of our best players on the team. It’s always good to try to keep everybody together.”
Like Perkins, he astutely reminded us what the issue really boils down to in Harden’s case.
“Of course, this is basketball. It’s business. Basketball is business. It’s something you can’t control.
“Personally, I would do my best I can to make myself feel comfortable, to feel happy,” Ibaka continued. “I think I am, so maybe James has a chance to do his best to make himself feel happy and comfortable.”
Harden certainly appeared relaxed while gamely answering question after question about his contract, but you have to wonder how it’s affecting his focus.
Russell Westbrook understands the pressure of going about his job with an unsettled extension.
“It’s tough,” said Westbrook, whose contract was extended soon after last season started. “I was in the same boat last year. That’s how it goes sometimes. James is going to make the best decision for him and his family. I know his agent and Sam and those guys will probably take care of it.”
The reality, however remote, is that Harden may not return after this season. Even so, his teammates have shown him nothing but support, which has mattered a great deal to him.
“It makes it easy,” said Harden. “It makes it easy to have these guys on my side. I’ve talked to Russell a lot just because he was in the same situation I was last year. He gives me advice all the time. He tells me, ‘Whatever you do, just focus on basketball, focus on your teammates’ and the things I can do individually to help the Thunder win games. That’s my focus right now and that’s what I’m going to continue to focus on.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn’t concerned with Harden’s potential lack of focus as the contract extension hangs in the balance.
“I’ve not talked to him, other than the normal conversation that I have with him and the other guys,” Brooks said. “Distractions? No. There’s a lot of good things and a lot of things I love about our guys and being focused is always one of them. They’ve always done that at a high level. Going into training camp, I don’t see it different.”
“We love James,” Brooks said. “Going into his fourth year, we love what he has done. As you all know, James has really improved. He’s really developed every year and he’s added to his game and we expect the same thing.”
Said Daequan Cook: “It’s not really a distraction. You don’t allow that to affect how hard you work or continue to get better as a person and a player. Whatever decision it is, that’s what it is.”
Presti has talked about the inherent challenges of the new collective bargaining agreement. Not so long ago, Harden said he was willing to sacrifice to stay Oklahoma City. Is that still the case today?
“It is,” Harden said. “Sacrifice. I think everybody on this team sacrifice(s) in their own way. It’s for the better of the team. That’s why we’re so close as well. Like I said, everything will work itself out eventually.”
As for now, training camp has begun and last years’ key players have returned. Fans can take relative solace in the matter-of-fact manner in which Harden declared an extension is coming by the deadline.