Due to limited draft capital and cap space, the Miami Heat were not expected to be major players before the NBA’s trade deadline. Therefore, it came as a huge surprise when the Heat announced they were trading guard KZ Okpala to the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 9.
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Miami Heat’s official account tweeted on Wednesday, “The Miami HEAT have acquired a 2026 second round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for KZ Okpala,” but the overall deal is actually a bit more complicated, as stated on the team’s website:
The 2026 second round pick will be the lessor from either Oklahoma City, Dallas or Philadelphia, which are owed to the Thunder. Additionally, the HEAT and Thunder have agreed to amend the protections of the first round pick already owed to Oklahoma City via the Clippers originally from Miami to a 2025 first round protected pick, and if not conveyed, to a 2026 unprotected pick.
Okpala, who’s been out with a wrist injury for the bulk of the 2021 NBA season, appeared in 63 games during his tenure with the Heat. Thus far this season, the 22-year-old averaged 3.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 0.7 assists per game.
While his stats leave much to be desired, the 6-foot-8 Stanford alum stepped up big time in December while over half of the Heat’s lineup was out injured or in health and safety protocols. Between December 8-28, Okpala appeared in nine games, averaging 19.2 minutes per outing.
With added minutes, Okpala showed why the Heat gave up three second-round picks to sign him in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft, but it was too little too late. Following news of his trade, Twitter filled up with strong reactions to his departure.
While it’s no shock the Heat decided to trade Okpala, rumored reports have circled for months, fans couldn’t help but feel frustrated at seem them give up on a player the Heat were once so invested in. “This year he has improved a bit sucks to seee him go but hopefully he gets a bigger role,” one man tweeted.
Other Heat fans were excited at the prospect of dropping Okpala’s contract and what it means for the team’s immediate future. One man tweeted, “So the Heat now can trade their picks and get a decent player for KZ Okpala right? They just opened up a roster spot.”
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, 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.
The Heat Can Now Add 2 Players to the Standard Roster Without Going Over the Luxury Tax
With Okpala gone, the Heat moved from being $160,00 below the luxury tax to $1.9 million under, as reported by Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman, and can now sign two more players to the regular roster.
Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang tweeted, “After today’s trade, Heat has enough space to immediately sign two players at minimum salary without entering luxury tax. Heat roster currently with 13 players on standard deals. NBA teams can only carry 13 players for up to two weeks before rules force 14th player to be added.”