Thunder GM uses all kinds of qualifiers when talking Harden

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The Thunder want to re-sign James Harden, to keep him paired with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. But those three have already gotten their new contracts.

James Harden wants to stay with Durant and the Thunder, to chase titles with them in Oklahoma City. But he’s a max player getting his first big contract and there is not going to be a hometown discount for the Thunder.

Which means to keep him the Thunder owners — with a team in one of the smallest NBA market — would have to pay the luxury tax. They have said they would, but how much are they willing to pay?

It’s been a much-discussed issue, but notice when Thunder GM Sam Presti is asked about signing Harden during Ibaka’s press conference Monday he puts a lot of qualifiers in his sentences (via the Oklahoman).

“James is somebody we value,” Presti said Monday afternoon. “We think he’s an important part to what we’re trying to do with our team and we’re hopeful that he’ll be with us…

“By the same token, we’ve been very upfront and transparent with everybody that we have some inherent challenges that we face as an organization as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement,” the Thunder general manager continued. “I know we’d love to have him here. I think James would like to be here as well. But at the end of the day … you have to find a way to make it work for everybody.”

We will see how this plays out. Maybe the two sides reach a deal on an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline, but if Harden is giving no hometown discount they may not. Then Harden becomes a restricted free agent — other teams can make offers but the Thunder can match. In a world where Brook Lopez is a max player and Ibaka gets $12.5 million a year, Harden is a max player and some other team will make that four-year, $58 million offer to him.

Then it will be up to Presti and ownership to match it or let him go. At that point there will be no qualifiers, the choice is a binary yes or no.