Maybe more than we’ve seen since its relocation to Oklahoma City, the Thunder went after a big-name free agent.
When Pau Gasol hit the open market, OKC put on the full court press. Sam Presti started it off with a phone call early in the process and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Scott Brooks followed up with reported face-to-face meetings with the skilled big man in Los Angeles.
But the amped up recruitment looks like it was all for naught. On Friday afternoon, Gasol tweeted that he was ‘very close to making a decision.’ Then, a few hours later, two reports surfaced that Gasol had narrowed his choices down to a pair of teams — the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. One report from a respected ESPN insider, the other from a Spanish newspaper that has ties to Gasol.
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So it looks like the Thunder has missed out on Gasol, its primary offseason target. And while there’s still plenty of secondary options out there — Mike Miller, Anthony Morrow and Francisco Garcia, to name a few — it’s becoming increasingly likely that free agency will come and go again without the Thunder making a big splash.
And that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. For a combination of reasons, the Thunder has never been very active during the league’s annual offseason frenzy.
Since relocating to OKC, the Thunder’s three biggest free agent signings are Derek Fisher, Caron Butler and Nenad Krstic, none national headliners. And all three of those deals came during the season. In the offseason, Presti has limited his free agent transactions to low-risk flyers, signing guys like Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, Ryan Gomes and, this year, Sebastian Telfair to nonguaranteed minimum deals.
Presti has built this roster through the draft and trades. He’s used up most of his cap space, understandably, by locking down some of the league’s best young talent to long-term deals. And by the time Presti gets around to free agency, he typically doesn’t have a ton of money left to spend.
There’s been enough to get in the running for some players. He’s gone after a few in the past, even inking C.J. Miles to a four-year, $14.8 million offer sheet back in 2008, which Utah matched.
But two things typically lure free agents — a willingness to overpay (Jordan Hill just signed for $9 million a year, Jodie Meeks just got more than $6 million a season) or a large, appealing market to promote. Presti doesn’t have either.
And in bidding wars — like the Thunder’s attempt to get Mike Miller last offseason or the run at Pau Gasol this past month — that has continually proved too much for OKC to overcome.