Visions of Pau Gasol in a Thunder uniform next season suddenly don’t seem so far-fetched.
According to ESPN.com, the Thunder has emerged as a leading candidate to land the skilled 7-footer, who is an unrestricted free agent after spending the past 61/2 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
At first glance, Gasol appears to be an unlikely acquisition. He earned $19.3 million last season, and because OKC is over the salary cap, the best contract the Thunder could offer is the mid-level exception, which carries a first-year salary of $5.3 million.
But there is a way the Thunder could net Gasol without him needing to take that significant of a pay cut. It would be a bold move that requires a pinch of creativity and a pound of good fortune.
The Thunder would have to trade Kendrick Perkins.
Oklahoma City’s commitment to Perkins over the past 31/2 seasons would lead you to believe that’s out of the question. But Thunder general manager Sam Presti, remember, repeatedly has shot down only the idea of amnestying Perkins. He has never commented on the possibility of trading him.
And though it seems the Thunder annually is the league’s quietest team when it comes to major transactions, the truth is Presti never has been opposed to pulling the trigger on a mega deal. He did it to acquire Perkins when he traded Jeff Green to Boston. He shipped James Harden to Houston. Going back to his Seattle days, he set in motion his plan for the franchise when he traded Ray Allen to Boston and sent Rashard Lewis to Orlando.
So there’s precedent.
In this case, the Thunder would have to orchestrate a sign-and-trade 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. That’s a bit of an issue for a Thunder team looking to keep the books as clean as possible for the 2016-17 season, the first year of Kevin Durant’s potential new deal. But here’s where the Thunder would need to get creative.
For the Thunder’s purposes, the final year of a three-year deal for Gasol ideally would be non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed. Gasol will be 36 at that time and might balk at financially uncertainty by then. If so, an alternative is to frontload the deal, which would be mutually beneficial for Gasol and the Thunder. The player gets financial security. The team gets a critically-important descending salary that helps sustain increasing salaries on Durant, Russell Westbrook and others.