OKC Thunder Badly Need Pau Gasol Pipe Dream to Pay Off

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2014

This Pau Gasol chase really needs to work out for the Oklahoma City Thunder

It probably won't—that's the thing about pipe dreams—but so long as there's a chance it may, the Thunder must hope Gasol resists other, more likely overtures and rolls with the long shot. 

That's what the Thunder are right now: long shots. They've courted Gasol extensively, but after meeting with head coach Scott Brooks, a source told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin that there is only an outside chance he relocates to Oklahoma City.

Money is believed to be the primary concern. Operating as a team over the salary cap, the Thunder can only offer Gasol about $5 million in the first year of his new deal. The 7-footer, meanwhile, is looking to net between $10 and $12 million annually, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

Hurdling that obstacle isn't impossible. Like The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry explains, the Thunder can try to orchestrate a sign-and-trade with the Los Angeles Lakers:

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.

Thin on expensive assets, Kendrick Perkins has to be part of any deal, which is—well, it's yuck. But not entirely yuck.

If the Lakers strike out completely in free agency, there are worse things than absorbing Perk's expiring deal while netting a few aspects worthy of evaluation. It all depends on who the Thunder are willing to give up—Perry Jones III, perhaps—but it's still a possibility should 2014-15 become another transition year for the Lakers.

Signing a 34-year-old Gasol for at least three years is something the Thunder would have to stomach. He eats into their cap space as Kevin Durant inches closer to free agency, but they won't be able to have it both ways.

Unless Gasol accepts a pay cut, which, again, isn't impossible.

Three other teams are involved in the Gasol chase, per Wojnarowski—the Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. The Spurs cannot offer more than the Thunder. For the Bulls to dangle more money, they'll still have to amnesty Carlos Boozer, paying him $16.8 million to leave them alone. 

You have to believe this diminishes the likelihood Gasol winds up in Chicago. The ever-stingy Bulls aren't ones to pay what could amount to more than $27 million for one roster spot (Boozer's amnesty, plus Gasol's new deal). 

The Lakers are a team to worry about. Emerging from free agency empty-handed could compel them to hand Gasol a lucrative, above-market two-year deal just to placate the impatient Kobe Bryant.

Unlike the Thunder, though, the Lakers cannot offer Gasol a chance to contend for a title next season. That's a big part of all this: Gasol wants to win.

"I’ve said it many times," he explained on his personal website, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. "I want to be in a team that has a solid chance to win another tournament and where I can be an important factor in the game.”

Having fought their way through to the Western Conference Finals this past season, the Thunder can offer him that chance. Durant and Russell Westbrook don't recruit just any 7-foot Spaniard with conditioned hair, after all:

Pairing Gasol with Serge Ibaka in the frontcourt is one of those moves that makes too much sense not to happen. As a playmaking big with significant range, Gasol injects the Thunder's sixth-ranked offense with even more firepower. Not even Brooks can sap the creativity out of that dynamic. 

And yet the Thunder are still a long shot, because money.

And location, per McMenamin:

During Gasol's meeting with Brooks, according to a league source, the 13-year veteran peppered Brooks with questions about the quality of life in Oklahoma City and wondered aloud about leaving a culturally diverse city like Los Angeles for middle America.

This layer of intel is equal parts weird, understandable and significant.

If venue and general environment are driving Gasol, the Thunder are in trouble. Not just with Gasol, either. Other free agents could look to this, too.

Gasol played in middle America before, remember. He spent more than six years with the Memphis Grizzlies. If his experience off the court wasn't pleasant, that's something others can interpret as a deterrent.

Market size and appeal matter. If the Thunder cannot reel in aging vets with the prospect of winning, what happens when they're looking to re-recruit Durant in 2016 when he's a free agent? How are they supposed to improve their roster if they're not only limited financially, but by player interest as well?

With only a few Shekels to spend, Gasol is as good as it's going to get for the Thunder. We can't just assume he's going to take a pay cut because he's earned more than $156 million over the course of his career, but the Thunder need to at least be an option.

Especially when there's only one team—a non-contender in the Lakers—who can blow their discounted offer to smithereens.

Playing alongside the reigning MVP should count for something.

Joining forces with one of the most explosively entertaining point guards should hold weight.

Teaming up with the NBA's premier shot-blocking fiend has to resonate. 

The Thunder need to improve. They need to be a team that can contend with the Spurs for a full seven games. 

And, more importantly, they need to prove Oklahoma City is a place outsiders want to make their home so that there's no doubt current players eventually won't.



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