With a Wednesday deadline looming for a contract extension for James Harden, general manager Sam Presti and agent Rob Pelinka have been meeting for the past two days in Oklahoma City trying to work out a deal, sources told Yahoo Sports.
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.
Nevertheless, the fact the two sides are still negotiating suggests there could be a deal to be made somewhere between the Thunder's latest offer and Harden's desire for a max contract.
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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.
Presti and Pelinka have talked frequently in the weeks leading up to Wednesday's midnight deadline, sources said. Pelinka knows Harden will likely command a maximum contract on the open market as a restricted free agent, and has little motivation to settle for much less.
As one league executive with relationships on both sides of the talks said, "You're asking a player to take less money and remain a non-starter. Harden can start and go make more money. …That's a tough sell."
What the Thunder have to sell is simple: a chance to stay with a championship contender and play with a core of young stars for whom he has great affection. Oklahoma City signed Ibaka in August. For the Thunder to pay Harden the maximum, they would push well into a luxury-tax scenario that owner Clay Bennett doesn't want to pay – for now, anyway.
The NBA's deadline for players in the draft class of 2009 to sign extensions is Wednesday. If not, Harden can become a restricted free agent on July 1. Several teams with salary-cap space, including the Phoenix Suns, are strong candidates to offer Harden a maximum contract.
If Harden doesn't sign the extension, several league executives believe Presti could begin to explore trades for Harden sooner than later. Most believe it would be riskier to overhaul the Thunder – a championship contender – near the Feb. 21 trade deadline because it's too close to the start of the playoffs.
Nevertheless, Oklahoma City's insistence that it won't pay a third player beyond Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook a max contract could ultimately be a bluff. The Thunder could simply insist that now, only to cave later and match an offer sheet in the summer.
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