The Miami Heat enjoyed a rare luxury heading into the NBA trade deadline. Namely, the ability to stand pat and continue on their march toward the playoffs as the conference leader and a dark horse title contender.
However, the team did complete one trade in the days before the big deal-making frenzy, sending third-year forward KZ Okpala to the Thunder for a second-round pick in 2026.
As part of the deal, the two sides also agreed to amend the protections of the first-round pick already owed to Oklahoma City (via the Clippers, originally from Miami) to a protected first-round pick in 2025 or, if not conveyed then, to an unprotected pick the following year.
Consequently, Heat president Pat Riley now has the ability to trade a first-rounder this summer or in 2023, giving him more flexibility on the player-swapping front.
It was a major win for Miami, but what’s to become of Okpala, who definitely showed some flashes when he actually got to play for the Heat? One thing is for certain — his future doesn’t lie with OKC.
Okpala Waived by the Thunder
Per an announcement from the team on Friday, Oklahoma City has already parted ways with Okpala. The 22-year-old is now officially back on the market as a free agent, and he has some attributes that some team or another will likely find appealing.
Checking in at 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds with a wingspan approaching 7-foot-2 — and athleticism to boot — Okpala has big-time potential as a defensive player. With playing time and some seasoning, he could be locking down multiple positions on a regular basis.
As such, he felt like an incredible value pick when the Heat scooped him up with the No. 32 overall selection of the 2019 NBA draft.
However, he’ll need to show some kind of offensive game beyond finishing in transition to lock down a spot in the league. Okpala’s three-point ability has been underwhelming at best; he’s shooting 27.3% from deep as a pro baller and was at 33.1% as a collegiate. He hasn’t posed much of a threat as an attacker in the half-court, either.
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Coach Spo Comments on KZ
In the wake of the trade, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke glowingly of Okpala’s drive behind the scenes.
“We saw a lot of progress,” Spoelstra said, via the Sun-Sentinel. “And that’s probably the frustrating thing for him, because he wasn’t able to get on the court as much as he would have liked… In terms of his professionalism, his work ethic, his commitment to improve, all of those things, we saw it in our doors, that he really improved.”
Spoelstra further indicated that, if not for injuries, we may have seen a lot more of Okpala.
“It’s tough. Injuries are a part of the game and sometimes at different points in your career you have more hope than you do at other times. I think once he gets past this, I think he’s going to have an opportunity to really display his versatility,” he said.
“On the defensive end, he has a lot of potential on that end. He can guard multiple positions. He’s strong. He’s big. And even in his small body of work with us and the Nigerian national team, that jumps out for sure.”