2014 NBA free agency rumors: are the Thunder now in the lead for Pau Gasol? (Update1)

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN reports that the Thunder unexpectedly are in the lead for obtaining Pau Gasol's services. Can they close the deal?

(Updates with additional comments and trade scenario)

Pulled from the comments below, Stein tweets:

So OKC is in the lead, right? Maybe:

So it is either a "real shot" or a "long shot." Or perhaps a "long, real shot," but not a, "really long shot."

Darnell Mayberry offers up an interesting scenario where OKC could clear out some cap space. Read his full analysis at The Oklahoman, but in short, it involves Kendrick Perkins:

In this case, the Thunder would have to orchestrate a sign-and-trade [involving Perkins] 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.

***

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne report that unexpectedly, the Thunder may be in the lead to obtain the services of Pau Gasol.

The pair write at ESPN that:

The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, have unexpectedly emerged as a leading contender for the services of Gasol despite the Thunder's financial limitations to try to sign him, according to ESPN sources.

[..]

Sources say that the Thunder, meanwhile, have engaged Gasol and Memphis Grizzlies sharpshooter Mike Miller this week among the free agents they've pursued since the market opened Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. ET, with one source saying that Gasol is "opening up to the possibility" of joining forces with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook even though Oklahoma City is limited to roughly $5 million in spending cash under the luxury-tax line at present.

Gasol had a phone conversation with Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Wednesday, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Barring any further moves to shed salary, Oklahoma City would thus have to ask Gasol and Miller to agree to steep pay cuts to actually sign with the Thunder. But Miller is known to be very friendly with both Gasol and Durant and posted an Instagram picture Tuesday night alongside the Thunder's face of the franchise after they hung out together in Los Angeles.

Previously Stein had tweeted that the Thunder were a long shot:

Gasol has said that money is not a big issue for him now. Will he be willing to take a major paycut to back up those words?

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