James Harden is set to become a restricted free agent next summer and he already confirmed that the Phoenix Suns are one team he'll consider, according to a report from Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic.
When asked in London over the weekend whether he would consider playing for the Suns, Harden, a standout star at Arizona State, said:
"Yeah," he said. "Of course. I love it there. My mom lives there still. So that's definitely my second home as far as my comfort level and going to school there. But obviously, I'm with the Thunder right now and what we have is special."
While Harden is correct, the Oklahoma City Thunder do, in fact, have something special right now, the team will likely have to go over the luxury tax if Thunder executives intend to keep their core intact.
The Thunder have already signed their franchise player Kevin Durant to a long-term deal as well as the team's point guard, Russell Westbrook. But the Thunder will pay over $35 million to Durant and Westbrook in 2015, leaving Harden and the team's anchor on defense in the frontcourt, Serge Ibaka, to consider a salary cut to keep the team from going over the luxury tax and paying harsh penalties.
Harden is set to make $5.8 million next season, while Ibaka will make $2.2 million. Both players could command max-contracts as free-agents after next season. The Thunder will have three days to match any offer Harden receives because he is a restricted free-agent.
While Harden knows he has a good thing going with the Thunder -- they lost to the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in June -- the Suns could be a team that he hears from after next season. Phoenix revamped its roster this offseason, letting two-time MVP Steve Nash go to the Los Angeles Lakers and veteran Grant Hill sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. But the team brought back Goran Dragic from the Houston Rockets and also acquired Dragic's teammate in Houston, Luis Scola, and Michael Beasley from the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Suns will have the cap space to go after another marquee free agent next summer.
But Harden knows that ultimately, his fate is not entirely his decision:
"That's out of my hands," Harden said. "That's not my decision. That's the front office. I'll let them decide that."
Durant, Westbrook and Harden are currently in London as members of the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team. Ibaka is also at the Games playing for the Spanish national team.