U.S. Olympic basketball player Harden watches during a training session ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the M.E.N Arena in Manchester

James Harden says he is “pretty sure” he re-signs with Thunder

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have some serious salary cap issues to deal with in the future — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have their max extensions already, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are coming up. The Thunder need to save money somewhere.

It’s not going to be with Harden. He is getting a max offer. You don’t let a Sixth Man of the Year and Olympian at age 22 slip away.

And Harden doesn’t want to leave. He told Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated he is staying put (via SLAM).

“I’m pretty, a hundred percent, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be in Oklahoma City,” Harden said with a slight stutter. “I’ll let my agent and Mr. Presti and [Thunder owner Clay] Bennett discuss all that, so I’ll let them handle that and stay out of it for right now and worry about the USA Olympics.”

When asked if he was at all enamored with the idea of being a more featured player elsewhere, Harden said, “I love winning. We have some great guys over here, something special, something I don’t think any other team in the NBA has – young guys who got drafted basically together, year after year after year. We’ve got something special, so I’m focused on what we have and trying to win a championship with these guys.”

Every struggling team seems to want to follow the “Oklahoma City model” for building a winner (which is really the Spurs model for a new generation). Because getting then nailing three top-five draft picks in three consecutive drafts is cake.

But more than that, what Presti and the Thunder have is created a culture where players want to be there. It’s not about the smaller market or the town that lacks the bright lights of New York or Los Angeles or Miami — the Thunder drafted players who fit with who they are and where they are. Guys like Harden who want to win and are happy to do it in OKC, they are not (as of yet) tempted by the bright lights and big city.

Harden will be a max player for the Thunder. Ibaka… that’s trickier.

Kings’ Rudy Gay suffers apparent torn left Achilles tendon, would be done for season

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This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.

Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.

Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.

Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings,  and with that team’s playoff chances have taken a hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers). Don’t be surprised if the Kings look to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

Gay was not happy in Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.

That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.

Zaza Pachulia lays out Russell Westbrook, stands over him (video)

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Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.

Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.

Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.

Report: 76ers’ Ben Simmons sitting entire season still on table

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?

It just won’t die.

Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.

Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.

76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.

It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.

Roy Hibbert passes ball into hoop, reacts with perfect facial expression (video)

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The Hornets did so much right in their 107-85 win over the Trail Blazers, even a bad pass went through the hoop.

Roy Hibbert reacted fantastically to blunder/basket (blasket?).