The Thunder "are making calls" in an effort to clear cap space to make a run at unrestricted free agent big man Al Horford, reports ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
Horford is one of the best free agents on the market, so this is an ambitious plan. The Thunder's front office is hoping to not only re-sign Kevin Durant, but also add another star. Horford would fit seamlessly in the starting power forward spot left open after Serge Ibaka got traded to the Magic on draft day. He also has ties with coach Billy Donovan, since the two won two NCAA Championships at the University of Florida.
The Thunder will start free agency well over the cap thanks to the cap holds they have in the books, including Durant's. They will have to make several moves in order to wrangle up enough cap space to sign Horford, but it's not impossible for them to do so.
So let's take a closer look at this rumor.
Why the Thunder will sign Horford
Horford is expected to receive interest from pretty much every team with cap space at their disposal, so he will have plenty of options. If Durant returns to Oklahoma City, however, few franchises can offer a better shot at a title. To even get in the ballpark, the Thunder will have to trade Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler and take little to no salary back, let Dion Waiters and Randy Foye go in free agency and waiving the partially guaranteed contracts of Anthony Morrow and/or Ersan Ilyasova to make room for Horford. But even then, the Thunder will still have enough depth left to complement one of the best starting lineups in the league.
Horford could slide into Serge Ibaka's spot as starting power forward, spacing the floor with his three-point shooting and defending smaller players than the ones he's had to battle against every night in Atlanta as a center. He could still see some time at the position he's been playing for his entire career when Steven Adams rests or when Donovan goes small with Durant at power forward. The on-court fit is as good as it would be anywhere else.
After being one of the featured players in Atlanta throughout his career, it could also be a good change of pace for Horford to be the third-biggest star on a new team. The expectations would be lower in Oklahoma City than they would be on a franchise that sees him as its centerpiece. Durant and Russell Westbrook would continue to be the vocal leaders and superstars, while Horford would be allowed to be in the shadows if that's what he wants.
For a 30-year-old player who has faced an uphill battle to get his team deep into the playoff for his entire career, joining a star-studded squad that won't demand as much of him on and off the court has to be appealing.
Why the Thunder won't sign Horford
The Thunder will need another team, and possibly two or three, to cooperate with them in order to shed as much salary as they need to before being able to sign Horford. Waving players alone wouldn't be enough. Kanter should have value around the league after a good season, especially now that his contract (three years and $54 million left, with an early termination for the third year) is not an albatross anymore thanks to the rising cap. Singler, however, has negative value, since he is out of the rotation and has four years and nearly $20 million remaining on his deal.
Moving both is far from impossible, but might require some time and possibly another asset. General Manager Sam Presti needs to be sure that Horford is a real option before pulling the trigger.
Would Horford be interested in joining the Thunder without a commitment from Durant that he's re-signing? It doesn't seem likely, as he would have other options, including returning to Atlanta, where he has played his entire career. Durant is holding free agent meetings all weekend, which means Horford would have to wait for KD to make up his mind. He might not be willing to do that. He's arguably the second-best free agent on the market and will easily command a maximum contract from a different team. Bad timing could derail any negotiations before they even begin.
There's also the fact that Durant could decide to re-sign for only one year while Russell Westbrook is set to become a free agent next offseason. The Thunder would look formidable with those two and Horford in the starting lineup, but if they don't win a title, there's a chance one or both of Durant and Westbrook will leave next summer, leaving Horford alone on a team with no superstars to ride out the rest of his prime.
It would take a lot of perfectly executed moves to get the Thunder in a position to sign Horford, which they will likely only make if they know Durant is coming back. Even if he does and they clear up enough cap room, Horford could look at the impending free agency of Westbrook and potentially Durant and decide he's better off signing somewhere else that can offer more stability.
Likelihood of happening: 2/10
While it seems like a perfect match on paper, it won't be easy to get all the moving parts in place at the right time to make it possible. Dumping salary without a confirmation from both Durant and Horford that they are in could backfire, as it could leave the Thunder with no depth and no stars but Russell Westbrook. There is a lot of risk involved.
If Durant and Horford hint that they are interested, the Thunder could have the tools to make it happen. At this point, however, there has been no confirmation that they do, so we can't say this is likely to go down.