|Harden and the Thunder could be getting close on a new contract. (Getty Images)|
If you're looking for good news on the James Harden front, here it is: With days to go before the deadline, the sides are talking. It's hard to get a deal done if you're not talking.
Harden, 23, recently turned down a four-year offer worth about $52 million, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. Harden, last season's Sixth Man of the Year, has been pushing for a maximum contract extension of four years, $60 million.
As the Thunder did in Serge Ibaka's four-year, nearly $50 million contract extension, sources said management will try to sell Harden on incentive clauses that could get his deal closer to the $60 million he wants.
Harden, who has remained confident in a deal getting done before the deadline makng him a restricted free agent, has used the word "sacrifice" when it referring to his contract. Something in the $52 million range seems like a reasonable sacrifice, but evidently that's too much for Harden to give up when it's virtually a lock he'll require a max contract on the restricted free agent market next summer.
Any pessimism about a deal getting done whether now or next summer should be dissipating, though. Contrary to some thinking, the Thunder didn't "choose" Ibaka when they signed him to a four-year $49 million extension. They simply got him done first. The Thunder are intent on locking up Harden, too, but are trying to drive the price down to a place that saves them as much money as possible in the future.
With the punitive luxury tax looming, even an extra dollar saved is an advantage for the Thunder. By the sound of it, Harden's agent is determined to get his client a max contract and isn't willing to budge for less. What it will likely take is Harden stepping in to the negotiations and demanding it get done.
Which is what the Thunder are probably banking on. One side is trying to make the other blink. I feel strongly that one side will blink before the Oct. 31 deadline -- there's too much at stake. While a lot of executives around the league do believe the Thunder would explore trades for Harden if he's not signed by the 31st, that appears very unlikely to me. Breaking up the Thunder at the Feb. 21 deadline would be a mighty risk.
Taking one more shot at it with Harden and then revisiting the situation after the season makes far more sense. But remember: If it doesn't happen by the 31st, the game isn't over. It's simply Round 1, and it would go to Team Pelinka.
The Thunder likely won't budge from the below-max number prior to the deadline because there's absolutely no incentive to. Unless they can get Harden for less now, waiting to match on a max offer next summer is the play.
The sell isn't tough for the Thunder. Harden gets to remain on a contender, play with his best buds and have a $50-plus million extension. It's not all bad. Probably better than playing in Phoenix with an average roster making a couple of more million a year.
Either way, here's further assurance that the beard likely isn't going anywhere. The Thunder desperately want him and by all appearances, Harden wants the same. That is, assuming he puts his money where his mouth has been.