The Thunder are hot on the trail of Pau Gasol, so much to be called “frontrunners” by ESPN.com.
The complication in trying to sort out how to get Gasol to Oklahoma City is largely held up by money. Everything I’m currently hearing is that Gasol is extremely interested and excited about the possibility of playing for the Thunder. It’s just that he’d be giving up a whole lot of money to do it, and is trying to get the best of both worlds.
With the Thunder at $69,677,141 in guaranteed contracts, really the most they can offer Gasol is the full mid-level exception, which would pay him $5.3 million annually. He mad $19 million last season. That kind of deal wouldn’t put the Thunder over the luxury tax, but would place them above the “apron” essentially locking them into a hard cap and limiting their financial flexibility next season.
But Darnell Mayberry had a really good breakdown of a little more clever way: Trade Kendrick Perkins.
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.
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.
Using the latter scenario, the Thunder hypothetically could take on Gasol with a generous three-year, $33.3 million contract that has a first-year salary of $12 million — which adds only $3 million to what Perkins was set to make but keeps OKC beneath the tax threshold — and a third-year salary of $10.2 million.
That kind of deal is pie-in-the-sky stuff for most Thunder fans. Get Gasol, drop Perk? Where’s the hidden camera, you guys?
But it is fairly reasonable. The Lakers aren’t building a contender for this season, but do want to improve. Perk’s $9.4 million expiring deal makes him a commodity, something teams aren’t afraid to take on because of the relief he gives their books next season. And if Gasol picks the Thunder, the Lakers could be intrigued by getting some kind of value back rather than just letting their former big man walk away for nothing. So say the Thunder gave the Lakers Perk and Perry Jones, or Perk and one of their international picks, or Perk and Grant Jerrett, or Perk and Semaj Christon. That’s kind of a decent deal for a player they’d be losing anyway.
Besides, adding Gasol crowds the Thunder’s frontcourt suddenly. The starting lineup gets cloudy and you might be compressing the roster, thus crowding Steven Adams who needs more time next season. I’d say hand Perk Hasheem Thabeet’s towel and teach him how to cheer, but that doesn’t seem all that likely.
It’s an extremely complicated scenario. And pulling it off would be difficult. The Thunder obviously are doing their best to improve the roster in the present, while still maintaining the future. They’re trying, you’ve got to give them that.