The Thunder held a press conference yesterday to officially announce the team's extension for Serge Ibaka, and it didn't take long for the line of questioning to turn to the issue on everyone's mind: Can the Thunder keep James Harden too? GM Sam Presti stressed that Harden was an important part of the team and that Oklahoma City is hopeful he'll be around long-term, but cautioned that an extension won't be easy.
"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," Presti said, according to Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman. "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."
With Ibaka under contract for $12.25MM annually starting next summer, Oklahoma City already has over $62MM in guaranteed salary committed to its 2013/14 roster. Throw in team options for Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward, and Reggie Jackson, and the Thunder could end up approaching the luxury-tax threshold without even signing Harden. Amnestying Kendrick Perkins could free up some money, but the team would miss his presence in the middle, and if Harden gets close to a max deal, the luxury tax could be a concern anyway.
Presti is one of the league's most creative executives, and it won't be a surprise if he finds a way to lock up Harden this offseason or next. But as his comments suggest, it may not be as simple as handing the All-Star guard a long-term extension and living with the tax hit.