Free Agency Begins and Rumors Fly

By Randy Renner

Even before the NBA's free agency period began at 11:01 last night Oklahoma time the rumors had already started flying out of the gate.

The LA Times reported that Lakers free agent Pau Gasol was interested in the Thunder, the Bulls and the Warriors.

ESPNDallas.com reported that Mavericks free agent Vince Carter would likely be courted by the Thunder, the Trail Blazers and the Raptors but that both Carter and the Mavs were interested in signing a new deal.

There was even a local report that Cavs free agent C.J. Miles, a guy the Thunder have liked for years and tried to sign once upon a time, was in the process of buying a home in Oklahoma City.

The next few days will bring plenty more reports and rumors some, like the report over the weekend that the Thunder were negotiating a buyout of Tibor Pleiss' Euro contract so they could bring him to training camp in October, will be nothing more than an agent smokescreen.

Others will have a little bit of truth mixed in.

All of it will be an entertaining way to combat the summer heat and we will update you with all the rumors and reports that impact the Thunder as we move through the process.

From now through July 9th teams and players can talk about the framework of possible deals but nothing can be signed until this moratorium period ends on July 10th. We also won't know exactly how much money teams will have to spend until then when the new salary cap and luxury tax lines are announced.

The projections are that the salary cap will go up to about $63 million (from $58 million) and the luxury tax won't kick in till a team hits about $77 million in payroll (up from about $72 million).

When the Thunder sign their two first round draft picks their payroll will be right around $72 million so they will have $5 million or so to play with if they want to remain under the tax line.

Because the Thunder are over the salary cap, even the new projected cap, the NBA limits how much money they can spend. Teams over the cap (but under the luxury tax line) can use certain exceptions to the cap in order to sign players.

The Thunder could use their mid-level exception to sing a free agent which would be worth about $5.3 million in the first year and they could also use that $6.5 million trade exception they have as a result of the Kevin Martin deal with Minnesota last season. If they used one or the other they could probably fit the deals in under the luxury tax, if they used both they could not.

But when it comes to Gasol the bottom line is because of NBA rules (not because the Thunder owners are cheap as some in the national media like to harp about) the most the Thunder could offer the former Laker star is $6.5 million. And to do that the Thunder would have to persuade the Lakers to resign Gasol and then trade him to the Thunder for probably a second round draft pick.

The Lakers might go for it because they wouldn't have to take any salary back and could keep cap space available for their pursuit of LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Gasol made $19 million last season so he'd have to agree to take a hefty pay cut to play here.

That scenario would change significantly if the Thunder decide to either amnesty center Kendrick Perkins and his $9.1 million salary for next season or trade him away. Thunder GM Sam Presti said a few weeks ago the team has never seriously considered sending Perkins away because it didn't make strategic sense. Throwing Gasol's name into the mix could change that thinking.

Gasol reportedly got calls from four teams last night but not from the Thunder. According to Los Angeles media reports the Lakers, Bulls, Warriors and Mavericks were the teams calling.

Carter would be an interesting fit for the Thunder. He made about $3.2 million last season and the Thunder could use the Non-Taxpayer exception to get him if he would agree to a similar amount.

Miles might be even cheaper but despite that rumor that he's buying a house in the OKC metro he has at least one other suitor. The Indiana Pacers have set up a meeting with him. The Thunder actually signed Miles to an offer sheet back in 2008 just after the Thunder moved here from Seattle. At the time Miles was a restricted free agent with the Jazz and they matched the Thunder's offer and re-signed Miles so Presti and his staff have liked Miles for quite a while.

Last season in Cleveland he averaged almost 10 points a game and hit 39 percent of his threes.

The Thunder are believed to still be interested in bringing sharpshooter Mike Miller into the fold. They tried to get him last season but Miller preferred to return to Memphis and it appears he wants to remain with the Grizzlies. He told a Memphis radio show yesterday that even though he will talk to a few teams he wants to re-sign with the Grizz as long as he gets a fair offer.

Anthony Morrow is another 3-point specialist who could interest the Thunder and could be had pretty easily moneywise. Morrow's problem is he doesn't defend very well, but he sure can shoot the rock.

Backup point guards like Kirk Hinrich and Luke Ridnour would be able to fit into the Thunder salary structure too and would also fill a need.

So get ready for a sugar high as the rumors fly. Should be fun.