Four-year contract might make it tough to find money for Harden.
The Oklahoma City Thunder took a big step toward sticking around as an NBA championship contender.
The Thunder and general manager Sam Presti still face difficult decisions in the team's quest to remain a title threat for the long haul after reaching the NBA Finals last season, but reaching a contract extension with blocks leader Serge Ibaka is certainly a good start.
Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) pulls out his team jersey in celebration against the San Antonio Spurs during Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference basketball finals in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, June 2, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]
Ibaka came to terms on the deal on Saturday as the Thunder locked up another key member of their nucleus while also putting into question whether the small-market team can afford to keep Sixth Man of the Year James Harden beyond next season.
Ibaka posted on Twitter that he was happy for the chance to play for the Thunder for five more years. Presti didn't provide details of the contract, citing team policy, but Yahoo! Sports first reported that the deal is for four additional years and $48 million.
"At 23 years old (by the time next season starts), we really do expect his best basketball to be in front of him," Presti said in a conference call, hours before his wedding.
Presti dismissed the notion that Ibaka's signing means that Harden's departure is inevitable. But with more than $50 million committed per season to All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and starting center Kendchinadaily.com.cnrick Perkins, there is not much room left in the budget for Harden, who earned a spot on the US Olympic team that won gold in London.
Ibaka played for Spain's silver-medal winning Olympic team. Both he and Harden were eligible for extensions to their rookie contracts for the first time this summer and were set to become free agents after next season.
"We're going to continue our conversations with James. We very much value him," Presti said. "We want him to be a part of our organization moving forward. We're excited that he's a member of the Thunder and we're hopeful that he'll be with us for years moving forward."
To make that happen, Oklahoma City would likely have to go over the salary cap - set at about $58 million for next season - and pay a luxury tax or make other moves, such as using the amnesty clause to erase Perkins' contract.
The Thunder have already let veteran free agents Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey sign elsewhere, and Derek Fisher remains unsigned. Backup point guard Eric Maynor, who missed most of last season due to a knee injury, also would become a free agent after next season.
"There's still a commitment for us to try to find a way to make it work for everybody, but we know there's going to be some difficult decisions that have to be made," Presti said.