James Harden was the best sixth man in the National Basketball Association last season and is an important piece to the young Oklahoma City Thunders championship puzzle.

Although, Harden was the only player on OKC that took home NBA hardware last season he’s not the Thunder that got paid this offseason. It was Serge Ibaka whom the Thunder, earlier this week, re-signed to a four year, 49 million-dollar contract extension. Ibaka did finished second to the Knicks Tyson Chandler in Defensive Player of the Year votes so the extension was well deserved.

The reason all of this is important is because after the 2012-13 NBA season Harden will be a restricted free agent meaning the Thunder can match any contract offer, but at the expense of the new luxury tax.

[Ask those Supersonic fans if they think ownership will “pony up”]

Harden is a better basketball player over Ibaka, but Ibaka is a much more important and valuable piece over Harden when it comes to keeping the Thunder championship contenders.

Both players are very young with unlimited potential, but Ibaka is a coveted NBA commodity because he’s a defensive minded big man in a guard filled league.

A couple of questions OKC fans are asking themselves: Would Harden take less to stay and play for our young stud Thunder cat team?!? Would he keep coming of the bench for us even though he could start on just about every other team in the NBA?!?

The answer to both of these questions is, no.

On top of winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award last season Harden just won gold with the U.S.A. men’s basketball team in London meaning he’s tasted a little gold and understands his worth.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka will be making more than 12-million dollars next season and Kendrick Perkins will be getting eight million on top of them. So, don’t expect Harden to stick around OKC for less much longer.

James Harden is a 6’5, 220 lbs shooting guard that is an actual good shooter than just an athletic driver. Last Season Harden averaged 16.8 PPG, shot .491% from the field, and averaged over 4 total rebounds and assists per game.

If players like Arron Afflalo got paid in previous off-seasons and Jeremy Lin just got “mad” money from the Houston Rockets this off-season expect at least one NBA franchise to load up on Harden.

So, here are five teams that could land James “The Beard” Harden.

Minnesota Timberwolves

They have a good young core in Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, & Derrick Williams. A good NBA center in Nikola Pekovic, a question at starting (key word) shooting guard, and a lot of cap space to sign Harden. Another positive about this situation would be that Harden and Love know each other having played on the Olympic team together.

Phoenix Suns

This would be a homecoming of sorts for Harden having played college basketball at Arizon State University where he was a star. The Suns would be another team much like the Timberwolves with young talent, money to spend, and a need at SG. Harden would be a good two-guard complementing Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley.

Los Angeles Clippers

Harden is a California kid so the Clippers are an automatic destination possibility. This is one of the less likely destinations considering they just signed a former Sixth Man of the Year winner in Jamal Crawford, but if they get rid of Chauncey Billups after next season who knows what might happen.

Los Angeles Lakers

As mentioned above every LA team is a possibility. The Lakers would definitely utilize Harden off the bench, but one thing that’s for sure he would be an answer to their off the bench offensives wooes. The Lakers haven’t had an offensive punch off the bench since Lamar Odom was shipped out of town. And unlike OKC, the Lakers would be willing to bite the Luxury tax bullet if they go another season without winning the championship.

Chicago Bulls

If the Bulls seriously want to win an NBA championship in the next few years they have to spend money on players that are worth it and make their team better. After Nate Robinsons and Richard Hamilton’s contract expire after this season a void at shooting guard will need to be filled. Harden would be a great piece next to Derrick Rose in the backcourt.

Sleepers: Oklahoma & Golden State

Where ever James Harden does end up after next season he’ll hopefully have a much nicer contract because there are plenty of players that have gotten way more for doing a lot less.

(And a happy early birthday to James "The Beard" Harden who turns 23 on Aug 26th