The Oklahoma City Thunder, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook acting as lead recruiters, have unexpectedly emerged as a leading contender for the services of Los Angeles Lakers free-agent center Pau Gasol, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com that Durant and Westbrook made a face-to-face pitch Wednesday to Gasol in Los Angeles to join them in Oklahoma City despite the financial limitations the Thunder would face in signing him.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti also spoke Wednesday by phone to Gasol, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com, while sources say Memphis Grizzlies sharpshooter Mike Miller is also among the free agents Oklahoma City has pursued this week since the market opened Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. ET.
One source described Gasol as "opening up to the possibility" of joining forces with Durant and Westbrook even though Oklahoma City is limited to roughly $5 million in spending cash under the luxury-tax line at present.
Chicago Bulls officials, meanwhile, have scheduled a Thursday trip to Los Angeles to court Gasol, according to sources close to the process.
Sources added that the San Antonio Spurs, fresh off their fifth championship in franchise history, will also get legit consideration from Gasol if he decides he's willing to play for a team with limited funds to spend on him. The Spurs, Thunder and New York Knicks are believed to be the only three such teams Gasol would consider joining in those circumstances.
Chicago's rising interest in Gasol, sources said, is indeed a reflection of the Bulls' concern that -- despite their recruiting efforts Tuesday when Anthony came to Chicago -- they will be unable to pry the All-Star forward away from the New York Knicks.
Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Bulls regard Gasol as their top target this summer after Carmelo Anthony and plan to make that known in a face-to-face pitch to the Spaniard.Yet there is considerable competition for Gasol's services even though much of the free-agent focus in Week 1 has been commanded by Anthony and the Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
In addition to the Lakers remaining very interested in re-signing Gasol, sources say Dallas, Golden State, Miami and New York have all been pursuing the Spaniard -- along with Chicago and Oklahoma City -- since free agency began.
The Lakers' meeting Tuesday with Gasol, according to one source, "went very well." Knicks president Phil Jackson and Heat president Pat Riley, sources said, are also among the big names to recruit Gasol via phone this week, while Chicago has long coveted the 7-footer.How much Dallas and Miami have to spend on Gasol will be dictated by their dealings with other free agents. New York can only offer a salary of $3-plus million to Gasol in the first year of a new deal. Golden State, meanwhile, would likely have to acquire Gasol via sign-and-trade and fit him into a $9.7 million trade exception that expires July 11 to pull off a move for Kobe Bryant's longtime sidekick.
The Lakers -- who have been mostly focused this week on preparing for their in-person sitdown Thursday with Anthony -- would appear to be positioned best to make Gasol an offer at the salary levels he's accustomed to amid all this competition from contending teams.
Prior to his Tuesday meeting with Gasol, Kupchak detailed how the Spaniard could thrive alongside Randle next season during an appearance on "ESPNLA Now" on ESPNLA 710 on Monday.
"I don't think Pau and (Julius) Randle are similar," Kupchak told co-hosts Mark Willard and Mychal Thompson. "I think, in fact, they can complement each other. Julius is a really competitive and physical player and he loves contact and he'll put the ball down a little bit and get to the rim.
"He has to work on the nuances of the game at 19-years-old. Pau is probably the most skilled big man that this game has ever seen. I think Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) would be up there with him, in terms of understanding and passing the ball and seeing the floor. So, I think they can complement each other."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin was used in this report.