With many NBA teams immersed in Carmelo Anthony- and LeBron James-related drama, the Thunder have tried to swoop in and sign Gasol, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
Bulls and Thunder have emerged as two new top-flight teams in the hunt for Gasol, who has predictably been drawing considerable interest— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 2, 2014
ESPN has learned that Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made a come-to-OKC pitch directly to Pau Gasol today in Los Angeles— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 3, 2014
Whatever Durant and Westbrook said to Gasol appears to have stuck. Stein would go on to call the Thunder a "leading contender" for the 7-footer's services, pitting them within a conversation few anticipated they would break into.
The Importance of Fit
There's little doubt the Thunder can make room for Gasol in the rotation.
Kendrick Perkins took up space last year. That's about it. He was atrocious at times defensively and he did unspeakably horrendous things on the offensive end (minus-0.9 offensive win shares, ladies and gents).
Inserting Gasol into the lineup provides an instant offensive upgrade. The bouncy-haired big man uses angles well and can pass, shoot, put the ball on the floor and play within a moderately paced system—he's basically the anti-Perkins.
Sliding Gasol alongside Serge Ibaka up front makes for an intimidating power forward-center duo. With Gasol's size and range and Ibaka's freakish rim protection and athleticism, the two are interchangeable at the 4 and 5 positions. And with Steven Adams and Nick Collison coming off the bench, one would be hard-pressed to find a deeper frontcourt rotation.
Playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook makes for an equally interesting opportunity. Both are willing passers who can spearhead pick-and-rolls, and Durant remains a deadly shooter who Gasol can kick out to when working off the blocks.
The Thunder's offense doesn't call for a floor-spacing power forward or center either. Ibaka shoots three-pointers sparingly, and while his volume has increased—career-high 60 long-ball attempts last season—Gasol won't be tasked with doing the same.
Fit is important here. It was Mike D'Antoni's system that allowed his relationship with Gasol to sour. The big man wants to play within an offensive scheme that doesn't marginalize his talents and overextend his range.
Honestly, I’m not ruling out renewing my contract, I’m just open to every option. My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations. It couldn’t be any other way. I want to be on a team with a real chance of winning a ring and where I can help to compete for it. I would like to win another championship. The financial side comes second at this stage of my career. ...
...My franchise has the chance of offering me more money and a longer contract, but that’s not all that’s going to matter as far as my decision.
Good thing Gasol isn't concerned about money, because the Thunder don't have any.
Or rather, they don't have enough money.
Signing with the Thunder would demand Gasol take a pay cut. A big one.
Stein says Oklahoma City can offer him roughly $5 million to start. Though he's due to earn far less than the $19.3 million he raked in last season, that's almost a 75 percent drop in pay.
That's less than half of what Gasol is actually looking for.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports he is hoping to land a contract that pays him between $10 and $12 million annually. It's no surprise, then, that Wojnarowski's colleague, Marc J. Spears, brought different news:
Thunder view run at Lakers FA Pau Gasol a "long shot" with only mid-level to offer, but they also believe "its worth a try," a source says.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 3, 2014
But that news was followed by more news:
Still remains to be seen if Pau Gasol can really stomach big pay cut, but one dialed-in observer insists OKC believes it has real shot here— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 3, 2014
What does it all mean?
"So it is either a 'real shot' or a 'long shot,'" writes Welcome To Loud City's J.A. Sherman. "Or perhaps a 'long, real shot,' but not a, 'really long shot.'"
Confusing. So it sounds about right.
Actually A Really Long Shot
Accepting a $14.3 million pay cut isn't even something the richest athletes are inclined to do. Just because Gasol has taken home more than $155 million over the course of his career doesn't mean he's in the business of turning down millions of dollars per year.
A team like the San Antonio Spurs can offer Gasol a similar payday and a better chance to contend. They're notorious for harnessing production out of international talent, just won a championship and employ the minutes-managing sage that is Gregg Popovich.
To follow up @ESPNSteinLine addendums on Pau: Pop's expert minutes regulation & Spurs international roster definitely part appeal.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 3, 2014
Joining them at $5 million per year makes far more sense. The Thunder don't boast the Spurs' comprehensive offensive system. It's mostly, "Give the ball to Durant or Westbrook, and go."
Which team will Pau Gasol be playing for next season?
Injecting Gasol's versatility into Oklahoma City's predictable and pedestrian offense doesn't guarantee it will function any better. There's a chance his creativity is misused, buried beneath simple-minded play-calling from head coach Scott Brooks.
Not to mention the pay cut itself is still be too steep. It doesn't matter if we're talking about the Spurs or the Thunder. Gasol would be leaving stacks of hundy sticks behind by relocating to San Antonio or Oklahoma City.
Teams like the Chicago Bulls can offer Gasol a chance to win and pay him more money. If the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer, they're able to hand Gasol something right in his $10 to $12 million range.
The Los Angeles Lakers can make mincemeat of every team. They own Gasol's Bird rights, so if they whiff on free agents like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, a lucrative, one- or two-year deal that surpasses $12 million annually could head his way.
Finding ways to increase their offer makes the Thunder a more realistic and enticing landing spot. But they're also going to pay more than $70 million for their roster as it is. The only way they can up their offer is through a sign-and-trade with Los Angeles, as The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry lays out:
In this case, the Thunder would have to orchestrate a sign-and-trade [involving Perkins] with the Lakers. Los Angeles would need to sign Gasol into its salary cap space, which could give Gasol a contract twice as large as he'd get simply by signing with the Thunder, and take back Perkins and perhaps a few pot-sweeteners.
Under league rules, contracts that are consummated in sign-and-trade deals must be for at least three years in length. That's a bit of an issue for a Thunder team looking to keep the books as clean as possible for the 2016-17 season, the first year of Kevin Durant's potential new deal. But here's where the Thunder would need to get creative.
Someone must tell me who those "pot-sweetners" will be. It's going to take a lot of sweetening for the acquisition of Perkins to taste anything other than bitter to the Lakers.
Financial flexibility, like it always does, is working against the Thunder. They're not the best fit overall thanks to a lack of cap space. They're not even the best option within their financial means thanks to the Spurs.
Guess that makes Oklahoma City's pursuit of Gasol a really long shot, after all.
*Salary information via ShamSports.