The Oklahoma City Thunder will face an interesting predicament next season, as both James Harden and Serge Ibaka enter the final season of their rookie contracts. With stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already signed to long-term max deals, the team will try to find a way to lock up the rest of its core. An excess of talent is certainly a good problem to have, but it won't be easy for the Thunder to bring all their players back — Durant and Westbrook alone are slated to earn $30MM+ in 2013/14, the first year in which luxury-tax penalties increase.
Harden has made great strides in each of his first three seasons, earning his first All-Star berth and scoring 16.8 PPG on .491/.390/.846 shooting in 2011/12. His 21.1 PER this year raises his career average to 17.2, and he's become arguably one of the top shooting guards in the NBA and the odds-on favorite for Sixth Man of the Year.
Ibaka, meanwhile, isn't the scorer than Harden is, but he's averaging 10+ rebounds per 36 minutes for the third straight season, and is leading the league in blocks with an incredible 3.7 per game. His 17.5 career PER is actually slightly better than Harden's mark, and he's a legit contender (and David Aldridge's pick) for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award.
GM Sam Presti says the team will do everything it can to ink extensions for Harden and Ibaka, and perhaps one or both players would accept slightly below-market deals to keep playing for a perennial title contender. I think retaining both is possible, perhaps at the expense of Kendrick Perkins, but let's say circumstances prevent the Thunder from keeping both players. If you're Presti, which player is your top priority? Who do you re-sign to play alongside Durant and Westbrook long-term? Harden or Ibaka?