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.