James Harden, Thunder continue to negotiate contract extension

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.

[Fantasy Basketball '12: Play the official game of]

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.

[Also: Fantasy basketball: Sleepers and busts for 2012-13]

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.

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
David Stern's final task: Promote myth of David Stern
Jets safety Laron Landry won't stop 'headhunting'
8-0 Louisville's toughest test is keeping coach Strong
Y! Music: Usher's new $12K puppy