HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder will have one fewer question to answer when training camp opens in six weeks.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports that the Thunder have reached an agreement on a contract extension with Serge Ibaka. The deal is for four years (starting in 2013-14) and $48 million.
Ibaka, 22, could’ve been a restricted free agent next summer, and his deal now locks into place three of the Thunder’s core young stars — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Ibaka. Durant and Westbrook each have the maximum contracts allowed under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.
This deal leaves the future uncertain for guard James Harden, who could command a maximum contract on the league market as a restricted free agent next summer. Along with the remainder of Kendrick Perkins‘ three years and $27 million, the small-market Thunder will be hard-pressed to invest so much money into their payroll.
Many wondered if the Thunder would have to choose between Harden and Ibaka, but they’ve always had the intention to keep them both. Now that Ibaka’s extension is taken care of, they can move on to Harden.
According to Sam Presti in a conference call announcing the Ibaka extension, keeping Harden is still a top priority:
“We’re going to continue our conversations with James. We very much value him,” Presti said. “We want him to be part of the organization moving forward. We’re excited he’s a member of the Thunder and we hope he’ll be with us for years moving forward.”
Back in June, Harden seemed to indicate that he’d be willing to take less money in order to stay with the Thunder, as Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman reported…
Harden is widely considered to be a top five shooting guard and potentially a third maximum-allowable contract level player. But he said Saturday that team success is more important to him than money and potentially making more elsewhere.
“This is something special here,” Harden said. “A dynasty is being built here. So we’re winning, we’re having fun and we’re brothers. The other stuff, you can’t buy it.”
Harden said his close friendships with his teammates is an extremely important factor in his decision as well.
“This team is like a family,” Harden said. “Like, we’re really brothers. We hang out most of the time every single day. You won’t find any other team like this. I love it here.”
The way some big men have been paid over the last year, Ibaka’s deal is pretty reasonable. And if the Thunder can get Harden’s signature on a similar extension in the next two months, they’ll be ready to roll this season … and far beyond that.