|The Suns, along with a bunch of other teams, will be after James Harden if he's available in 2013. (Getty Images)|
The longer James Harden doesn't have an extension in Oklahoma City, the more this type of thing will happen.
Harden, who is of course in London playing for Team USA in the Olympics, was asked if he'd consider the Suns were he to reach free agency in 2013. (Relevant: Harden played his college basketball at Arizona State.)
Via the Arizona Republic, his answer:
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course. I love it there. My mom lives there still. So that's definitely my second home as far as my comfort level and going to school there. But obviously, I'm with the Thunder right now and what we have is special.”
Harden, who is eligible for an extension this summer with the Thunder, could eliminate all that talk were he to sign long-term with OKC. But there are questions about Oklahoma City and their future salary cap issues caused specifically by Harden and teammate Serge Ibaka who is also eligible for an extension. Were the Thunder fail to lock either up long-term this summer, they would be become restricted free agents next summer.
“That's out of my hands,” he said. “That's not my decision. That's the front office. I'll let them decide that.”
This sounds like an important development, but it's actually not at all. Because what would you expect Harden to say? If he's not under contract in 2013 with the Thunder, shouldn't he be considering all interested teams in him? Doesn't that only make complete and total sense?
“I'm just leaving it up to my agent and Sam [Presti]," Harden said in June. "They'll do a pretty good job of working it out. I'm focused on several other things right now. But when the time is [right], they'll figure it out and it'll be done."
Harden has been pretty adamant about his love of OKC throughout his time with the Thunder and tried to make that especially clear during his exit interview following the NBA Finals, even going so far to indicate he'd give the Thunder a discount on an extension.
“This team is like a family,” Harden said. “Like, we're really brothers. We hang out most of the time every single day. You won't find any other team like this. I love it here.
“This is something special here. A dynasty is being built here. So we're winning, we're having fun and we're brothers. The other stuff, you can't buy it.”
Harden wants to remain in Oklahoma City. There's absolutely no question what his preference is. And the front office wants him to remain. The Thunder have had lucrative trade offers for Harden in the past but bypassed all without much thought because of their commitment to him. There have been some rumblings floating the Magic are trying to get OKC to let go of Harden in a Dwight Howard deal but league sources insist the Thunder are not trading Harden. Which would clearly indicate that their priority is to re-sign him.
“The kind of support we have in Oklahoma City, it's the best in the NBA,” Harden told the Arizona Republic. “Phenomenal. Beards in the crowd, the whole nine (yards). The city is really something special.”
If Harden gets an acceptable offer that he and his agent are comfortable with from the Thunder, there is no question he will remain with the Thunder. He doesn't have a wandering eye. But he's no fool either.
Kevin Durant tried to make assurances on Twitter a few weeks ago saying Harden wouldn't be going anywhere. “He not hittin the market,” he tweeted.
But when asked about those comments again, Durant said he was just being optimistic and has no inside track on it.
“I am not negative,” he said. “I am just not going to think that way. If that's not the case, then I may be wrong. But as of now, I think he is going to be there and I think they're going to make a concerted effort to keep him there. That's just me. I don't sign the contracts, I don't negotiate contracts.
“I am just, that's just me being me and knowing how much we value him as an organization as a guy who is part of our time.”
The lesson here is, if a reporter from Sacramento asks Harden tomorrow, “Would you consider the Kings in free agency?” and he says, “Yep, sure would,” that doesn't mean Harden is going anywhere at all. It just means if the Thunder don't lock him up this summer, he's going to have some options, and he's going to consider those options.