The Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, and San Antonio Spurs have all expressed interest in Gasol in recent days.
While the NBA free agency dominoes won’t really start falling until LeBron James decides what he’s going to do, Gasol has emerged as the summer’s biggest wild card.
Gasol was one of the highest-paid players in the NBA at $19.2 million in 2013-14. If he wanted an annual salary anywhere near that in his next contract, his options would be limited.
But according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, Gasol is open to taking a smaller deal to join a contender.
The Oklahoma City Thunder could only offer him the “mid-level exception” for $5.3 million per year, and even that would take them right up to the luxury-tax line that owner Clay Bennett reportedly refuses to cross.
Still, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook met with Gasol in Los Angeles to give him the hard sell on Wednesday. A Westbrook-Jackson-Durant-Gasol-Ibaka starting five would be borderline unguardable.
If he’s really willing to take the mid-level exception, though, an even more intriguing option for Gasol is the San Antonio Spurs.
The 2013-14 NBA champions reached out to Gasol, according to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It looks like a perfect fit on paper. Gasol is a great passer, a strong mid-range shooter, and one of the most intelligent players in the league. The Spurs also have a track record of managing aging players.
From a financial perspective, the Miami Heat might have the ability to blow OKC and San Antonio out of the water.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that Miami believes it will have $12 million in cap space after the Big 3 re-sign. That scenario would require Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to take massive pay cuts. It’d also give the Heat the ability to offer Gasol more money than any other contender could give him.
The Bulls have made Carmelo Anthony their No. 1 target in free agency, with Gasol as a Plan B if that falls through. With Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah on the roster, this seems like a less-than-ideal fit, but they’re reportedly interested.
Gasol is an underrated player who could thrive as a third- or fourth-option on a championship contender. If he really is willing to take less money to sign with one of these top teams, his decision will shift the balance of power in the NBA.