As the NBA's free-agency period has taken on a life of its own, it has again morphed into the summer of LeBron James and max contracts. Even the Oklahoma City Thunder have been linked to high-powered free agents, but without boatloads of cap space to play with, they'll be limited to scouring the bargain bin.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti raised some eyebrows with his approach to the draft, but he's earned leeway from the fanbase and will have the chance to redeem himself if he manages to lure some of the following free agents.
They all have the potential to be bargains, considering the roles they would fill for the Thunder in their pursuit of a championship.
With the $5 million they have to spend on him, a free agent of Pau Gasol's stature normally wouldn't even be a pipe dream for OKC.
Gasol, however, has made it abundantly clear that money is not his primary motivation as an unrestricted free agent. He wants to play for a contender, which is why OKC is a possible landing spot for the accomplished Spaniard.
The two-time NBA champion just turned 34 years old and is no longer a franchise player, but his game has never been predicated on athleticism.
The 7-footer is so unbelievably skilled that he still brings a lot to the table.
He won't average 20 points per game, but he would finally give OKC a reliable low-post scorer to whom it can turn when it needs a high-percentage look, as opposed to isolating Durant or Westbrook.
In addition, Gasol is a very capable mid-range shooter and an exceptional passer with a very high basketball IQ.
Defensively, he was never particularly mobile to begin with and he's definitely lost a step in that regard. But he's big (7’0”, 250 pounds), smart and Serge Ibaka would be covering his mistakes at the rim.
The prospect of adding such offensive talent to an already-devastating juggernaut is drool-inducing and definitely outweighs Gasol's defensive shortcomings. This is especially true if the Thunder can lock up that kind of talent for a "mere" $5 million.
Gasol doesn't fit the mold of a normal "bargain bin" acquisition because of his multimillion-dollar price tag, but he would be well worth the money.
Turning 39 on July 20, Ray Allen would be a luxury at the $3 million he made last season, considering his age and his role as a one-way player.
But if he's willing to take less—or if he is forced to by market demands—he could a valuable piece for OKC.
One of the biggest problems for the Thunder last season was their lack of perimeter shooting: They had fair three-point shooters surrounding Westbrook and Durant in Jeremy Lamb, Caron Butler and Derek Fisher.
But Allen is the most prolific long-range shooter of all time, and he'd be a hired gun at this point in his career.
Defenses can't afford to leave Allen open for a second, so his presence would open up space for the superstar duo to operate.
Evaluating his talents and potential statistical production, Allen won't be much of a bargain—he will probably earn just about what he should. But for the Thunder, he could hit the key shots in big moments to carry them over the hump in the playoffs.
Vince Carter is a better all-around contributor than Ray Allen, but he is of course not the same type of defensive game-plan changer Allen is.
Regardless, Carter's game has aged surprisingly well, and he's knocked down 40 percent of his threes over the last two seasons. During that time, Carter has made the transition to a bench role, which would be his ideal place with the Thunder.
However, he's more capable of handling the rigors of starting than Allen, because he brings a more well-rounded game to the table.
His ability to create his own shots would be especially appealing to a Thunder team that constantly has to force-feed Durant and Westbrook in critical situations. With the exception of Reggie Jackson, other OKC players are incapable of generating their own offense.
Like Allen, Carter had a cap hit of $3 million last year, and he could yield a great dividend on such an investment for OKC.
Jimmer Fredette is certainly a departure from the previous candidates.
The first three are experienced, accomplished NBA players who might be willing to take a slight pay cut to join a contender. Fredette, on the other hand, is fighting to keep his NBA career alive and, according to Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk, may be mulling the idea of playing in Europe.
While he has failed to deliver on the promise shown at Brigham Young, Fredette is only 25 years old and possesses the shooting skill the Thunder desperately need.
There are questions about Fredette's size, true position—at 6'2", he's the size of a point guard but has the game of a shooting guard—and defense, but nobody can question his shooting ability.
He's shot over 40 percent from three-point in his otherwise underwhelming career.
Given his current status, Fredette could probably be lured to OKC on a minimum deal, and the possible rewards dwarf the risk of bringing him into the fold.
The worst-case scenario is that Fredette rides the pine while giving head coach Scott Brooks an "if necessary" three-point gunner.
Best-case: Fredette finally finds himself as an NBA player and becomes the heat-check combo guard he was always meant to be. There's no reason he can't become the low-cal version of Patty Mills, and his shooting could seriously help the offense maintain spacing and balance.
Francisco Garcia is no star, but he has the skills and mentality to become OKC's version of Shane Battier.
The main allure of Garcia is that he can be a solid two-way player—something they've sorely lacked in the playoffs.
Garcia’s not going to be more than an average offensive option and a tough-nosed defender, but his ability to cover primary wing scorers in spurts while knocking down threes makes him a rare commodity as a three-and-D player.
At 32, Garcia has lost a step athletically, so he's not going to cover superstars for an entire game, but his gritty defense allows him to soak up valuable minutes as a utility defender with the versatility to play both the 2 and the 3.
As a career 36 percent three-point shooter, Garcia can be enough of a threat from downtown to give OKC the spacing they need.
Again, he's not going to be particularly great as a shooter or a defender, but the fact that he can tread water in both facets of the game makes him a valuable bargain option for the Thunder.
All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!