Amidst the wild ride that has been this 2014 NBA free agency period — headlined by LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony — the Oklahoma City Thunder stood atop the list of potential landing spots for two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol. Recently, on Twitter, Gasol announced that after heavy deliberation, he had decided to join the Chicago Bulls, immediately making the team from the Windy City the favorite in the Eastern Conference.
After a disappointing end to an up-and-down season, the Thunder missed a grand opportunity to add one of the best passing big men the NBA has ever seen, adding versatility and experience to a fairly thin frontline. No one, not for one second, has questioned the skill set of Serge Ibaka or promise of the young Steven Adams, who flashed moments of significant contribution in last year’s playoff run. What Gasol could add to this team cannot be measured. Hockey assists are not recorded but are surely one of the most important aspects of team basketball. Making the pass before the assist often gets overlooked in the grand scheme because the stat is not recorded. Gasol has played with one of the greats in Kobe Bryant and flourished in an offense that played inside-out basketball, giving the big men plenty of touches in order to suck in opposing defenses.
Adding Gasol could and should have been priority No. 1 for OKC, but instead, he slipped through the cracks into the weaker Eastern Conference, leaving the Thunder stagnant. After the San Antonio Spurs re-signed Patty Mills and Boris Diaw, the Thunder desperately needed to make a powerful move in this year’s free agency period. Their best wasn’t good enough to topple the eventual NBA champs, and their lack of offensive production from their big men was perhaps precisely the reason why.
Sam Presti needs to take this offseason seriously and understand that the current team in place does not have enough firepower to contend and ultimately win a title, despite having two of the top five players in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It is a shame the Thunder missed this opportunity to vault into the upper echelon and potentially the best team in the NBA, and I truly believe they’ll rue the day they let Gasol get away.