The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t have Russell Westbrook in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, which was obviously the primary reason they were bounced in the second round. In the 2014 postseason, they were without Serge Ibaka for part of the Western Conference Finals. Even when he did return, they were no match for the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. With Kevin Durant’s free agency rapidly approaching, the Thunder need to get over the hump now.
While OKC doesn’t have the benefit of a plethora of cap-room this summer, that doesn’t mean they can’t work out a sign-and-trade of some sort to try and land a big-name free agent to help their cause. The idea of a player taking a pay cut to play with Durant and company isn’t far-fetched either. The latter may be on the verge of happening given the latest free agency development regarding the Thunder’s newest target: Pau Gasol.
In a surprising development on Wednesday, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported that the Thunder have emerged as a player in the sweepstakes to try and land the veteran big man, joining the Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat as potential suitors. Moreover, Shelburne also reported that the Thunder are the “frontrunners” to land the big man with ESPN’s Marc Stein also adding that both Durant and Westbrook met with and made a pitch to Gasol.
The 30-year-old seven-footer has been the target of much criticism the past two seasons in L.A. with his injury woes and a noticeable decline in production. Though some of the criticism around Gasol is a stretch, it’s hard to deny that he didn’t look like the same player. The question is whether or not Gasol’s issues were due to physical decline solely or in part due to disinterest resulting from the gasping-for-air Lakers and the disgruntling situation there.
On paper, Gasol is a natural fit in OKC. When healthy and engaged, Gasol is a premier offensive talent on the interior, a fantastic rebounder, and an above-average rim-protector. Essentially, he can provide what Kendrick Perkins has for the Thunder plus a great deal more. If he were to come to Oklahoma City, he would almost surely be mentally committed. However, that still leaves the question of what does he really have left in the tank.
Gasol getting the Thunder to that next level and possibly to an NBA Championship level hinges almost solely on the fact that he can perform at the level or even slightly below the level that he was playing at when he was helping the Lakers win titles around the start of the decade. If he’s that guy, Oklahoma City is arguably the most dangerous and versatile team in the league. If he’s not that guy, he could very well be a hindrance to the Thunder.
If you’re OKC and there is a legitimate chance for you to land Gasol, you almost have to pull the trigger on the deal. In theory alone, the possibilities that Gasol would create are worth signing him. That doesn’t mean it’s a cut-and-dry situation, though. This deal could either make the Thunder title-favorites or it could unsettle their system and disrupt a beautiful thing.