Why did OKC Thunder quit KZ Okpala, what happens next?
The OKC Thunder had one of the least exciting NBA trade deadlines since moving to Bricktown in 2008, which is to be expected as most of those seasons they were looking for players to get them through the a pursuit for an NBA championship this year? Not really. The biggest drama would be Sam Presti turning Kenrich Williams or Mike Muscala into pretending, which didn’t happen.
The Oklahoma City Thunder made just one trade this week, but that didn’t stop Presti from shaking up his roster. The Thunder shipped a second-round pick and changed the protections on a first-round pick the Heat owe OKC to make it more favorable in exchange for KZ Okpala.
The Stanford product who has been in the NBA for three seasons still hasn’t compiled as many minutes as some rookies have so far in their careers. An interesting power forward who provides defense and shoots 40% from corners on a small sample. This move filled the open roster spot left by the team first giving up Gabriel Deck and then seeing Mamadi Diakite give up his third and final ten-day contract a day earlier.
Why did OKC Thunder give up KZ Okpala, and what will happen next for Sam Presti and Oklahoma City?
Despite trading an interesting young draft who was on an expiring deal and only owed $1.7 million, Sam Presti opted out of Okpala on Friday afternoon ahead of their contest with the 76ers. It’s on the heels of the OKC Thunder waiving two-way forward Paul Watson Jr, to open up this two-way deal for Oklahoma native Lindy Waters III.
The Oklahoma City Thunder now have an open spot on the NBA roster, while fulfilling both two-way pacts for now with rookies Lindy Waters III and 55th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft Aaron Wiggins. Why give up Okpala and open a place on the list again? What’s next for the OKC Thunder?
This trade itself was done for the sake of the Stepien rule, moving the protections of the future pick due to OKC via Miami gives the Heat some asset flexibility but also allows the Thunder to receive a more valuable first-round pick .
However, something or someone has to come from the Heat side, and so does Okpala, who has been out since Dec. 28 with a wrist injury. The Oklahoma City Thunder waived him on Friday, not even seeing Okpala up close and personal, or even giving him a jersey number according to the Thunder game notes.
That leaves a vacancy to fill, with the team $23 million under the salary floor. Although there is no massive contract signed, the team will probably end the season below the salary floor, Sam Presti still has options to use this spot.
It’s an easy choice to convert Maryland rookie Aaron Wiggins to a full-time contract with the NBA, prior to his ankle injury Wiggins was enjoying a fantastic rookie campaign while playing stunning defense for a rookie wing.
It would be a stunner for Presti, who has a long history of converting two-way deals and appears to have found a diamond in the rough at pick 55, not to convert Aaron Wiggins into an NBA standard pact.
That would leave the Thunder with an open spot either way, and don’t be surprised if Oklahoma City signs Mamadi Diakite to a two-way deal. Diakite made a big impression on the organization, praising him publicly and privately. Without his preseason hip fracture, there’s a chance he’ll break training camp with the varsity team. During his three ten-day deals, Diakite performed well, even making it into the starting lineup at times due to injuries.
Time will tell how the team uses their spot on the open roster, but it’s clear that this trade with the Heat was only meant to increase the value of the team’s future first-round pick.