Former Heat Forward Makes NBA Comeback, Signs 2-Year Deal

KZ Okpala

Getty KZ Okpala #11 of the Miami Heat passes the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter of preseason action at FTX Arena on October 04, 2021.

The Miami Heat‘s second-round pick from the 2019 NBA Draft, KZ Okpala, has gone through quite the rollercoaster over his professional career. Okpala was in the final season of his three-year, $4.2 million contract when Miami traded the Stanford alum to the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 9.

The Heat’s official account tweeted, “The Miami HEAT have acquired a 2026 second round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for KZ Okpala,” but the overall deal was a bit more complicated. ESPN analyst Bobby Marks explained on Twitter, “By amending the first round pick that was originally owed in 2023 to now 2025, the Heat have available their 2022 or 2023 first to use in a deal. The first was originally top 14 protected in 23, 24, 25 and unprotected in 26.”

Moving protections from the future pick gave the Thunder the chance to receive a more valuable first-round pick while the Heat cleared $1.9 million from their salary cap and gave Miami asset flexibility.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma City immediately waived the 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward without “even seeing Okpala up close and personal, or even assigning him a jersey number according to the Thunder game notes,” as reported by Fansided’s Rylan Stiles.

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Now, the former Heat prospect is getting second shot in the NBA. On Friday, July 15, NBA Insider Chris Haynes tweeted, “Free agent forward KZ Okpala has reached an agreement on a two-year deal with the Sacramento Kings, his agent Aaron Mintz of CAA tells @YahooSports.”

Despite minimal playing time, Okpala was a fan favorite in Miami. While Okpala missed the bulk of the 2021 NBA season with a wrist injury, overall, he appeared in 63 games during his tenure with the Heat. Last season, he averaged 3.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 0.7 assists per game.

Okpala Worked With the Kings Head Coach During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Okpala will already have a familiar face in Sacramento, as the Kings recently hired new head coach, Mike Brown, who led the Nigerian Olympic Men’s Basketball Team a the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The 23-year-old forward was part of Nigeria’s national team alongside Heat guart Gabe Vincent, and Miami’s former first-round pick from the 2020 NBA Draft, Precious Achuiwa, the latter of whom was sent to the Toronto Raptors in the sign-and-trade that brought Kyle Lowry to Miami.

Brown immediately became a huge fan on Okpada last summer. “KZ is a remarkable talent,” he said. “This is a young man that, in my opinion, he has a chance to be, obviously, an elite defender. And these are high expectations, but the short time I’ve had him, he could be a Defensive Player of the Year type candidate once he figures some things out to get consistent minutes on the floor.”

Due to the Pandemic, Okpala’s Tenure With the Heat Never Went to According to Plan

Back in 2019, the Heat sent their 2022, 2024, and 2026 second-round picks to the Indiana Pacers in a three-team deal that gave them the rights to Okpala. Due to the timing of that draft trade, the young guard wasn’t able to participate in the Heat’s summer league as an incoming rookie, and after suffering a strained left Achilles, he missed 19 consecutive games.

Because of coronavirus, Heat’s summer league was canceled in 2020, as was the franchise’s G League, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, which left Okpala minimal opportunities to refine his skills, or to take advantage of Miami’s famous developmental program.

In August 2021, Okpala got his first chance to participate in the Heat’s summer league. During the first four games, he scored a total of just 25 points, shooting a paltry 23.5% both from the field and beyond the line.

Okpala’s best performance came during the final game of the Heat’s summer league last year, when Omer Yurtseven, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, and Marcus Garrett were out. During the Heat’s 83-82 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Okpala scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, 4-of-5 on threes, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block.

During the 2020-21 NBA season, Okpala showed a spurt of what he’s capable of during the Heat’s regular-season game against the Detroit Pistons on May 16, scoring 17 points in 34 minutes of play. But finishing summer league play averaging 8.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and two assists — these disappointing stats did nothing to propel Spoelstra into using him as a primary backup playmaker.

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