Heat gain pick-trade and luxury-tax flexibility in trade with Thunder

KZ Okpala in Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder
Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Heat are often trying to get as good as they can as quickly as they can.

First in the Eastern Conference, Miami will have more opportunities to do that after a trade with the Thunder that increases flexibility to:

  • Deal more draft picks by changing protections on an already-traded pick.
  • Add salary while staying below the luxury-tax line by unloading KZ Okpala onto Oklahoma City.

Thunder release:

The Oklahoma City Thunder has acquired forward KZ Okpala and will receive amendments on the conditions of a previously traded draft pick from the Miami Heat in exchange for the least favorable of its 2026 second-round draft picks, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti.

The Thunder and Heat will amend the 2023 first-round pick the Heat had previously owed the Thunder, whereas two years of protections will be eliminated, and that pick will now be owed to the Thunder starting in 2025 (1-14 protected) and then will convey as unprotected in 2026.

In a related move, the Thunder has released forward Mamadi Diakite.

Previously able to guarantee conveying only one first-rounder (and not able to guarantee it’d arrive until 2028) in a trade, Miami can now trade its 2022 or 2023 first-rounder, too. This seemingly indicates the Heat will do that before tomorrow’s trade deadline.

However, this deal also frees Miami to deal both picks at draft time (agreeing to a move before the draft then, making the pick on behalf of another team then making the trade official after the draft). Perhaps, that’s the Heat’s plan and they just wanted to take advantage of removing Okpala’s full-season minimum salary from their books now. That could ease post-buyout additions.

The pivotal first-round pick – sent from Miami to the Clippers in the 2019 Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade then flipped to the Thunder for Paul George a few days later – originally would have conveyed if outside the lottery in 2023 or 2024. Now, those years are off the table. The pick can convey at the earliest in 2025, when it remains lottery protected. It remains unprotected in 2026.

Oklahoma City increases its chances of getting a lottery pick in 2026. With so many picks already in their war chest, the Thunder are valuing quality over quantity. They also probably prefer spreading out when their future picks will arrive, as they own so many the next couple years.

Taking Okpala’s low salary and sending a 2026 second-rounder to the Heat is a low cost for gaining so much upside. Oklahoma City has its own, the Mavericks’ and the 76ers’ second-rounders in 2026. Miami will get the lowest of those three selections.

And more importantly and immediately, ideally, a higher-impact player from this newfound flexibility.