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Thunder Journal: 10 Thunder Takeaways from the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

Thunder Journal: 10 Thunder Takeaways from the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

The 2022 NBA Trade Deadline set off fireworks on social media as superstars like James Harden and Ben Simmons, mid-tier stars including CJ McCollum and Kristaps Porzingis, and young stars such as Domantas Sabonis and Tyrese Haliburton changed teams.

For Oklahoma City Thunder fans, expected draft pick pyrotechnics turned out to be a deadline day dud. When the dust settled, Sam Presti made a single trade… for a player that was waived the next day. But that’s not to say the Thunder had a bad trade deadline, as some transactions across the league could end up being fairly fortuitous for OKC.

Here’s 10 things that went down at the trade deadline that directly affected the Thunder: five good and five bad.

Good: OKC improved their Miami pick.

The Woj and Shams bombs announcing the Thunder traded a second round pick to the Heat for KZ Okpala sent thousands of fans (and at least one beat writer) to Google to learn more about OKC’s newest player. But the Twitter twosome buried the lede.  The Thunder kicked a 2023 pick that was likely going to fall between #25-30 down the road two or three years. Now it will convey for OKC between #15-30 in 2025 or #1-30 in 2026. Savvy, Sammy.

Bad: The Thunder didn’t pick up any more draft picks.

It seemed like a gimme, a foregone conclusion, a no brainer. The perfect storm of OKC being the only team with cap space (and a ton of it), plenty of teams needing to shed salary and Presti loving picks like I love 80s rock ballads. Surely some team was going to dump a bad contract and give the Thunder a protected first rounder to save millions in luxury tax. Apparently the market just wasn’t there, because you know Sam was calling other GMs nonstop like a young Jon Favreau after a first date.

Good: Houston got better.

Instead of trading away Eric Gordon and/or Christian Wood for first round picks and increasing their odds to add a Jabari Smith, Jr. or Chet Holmgren, the Rockets added the real 2020 Sixth Man of the Year in Dennis Schroder. The Thunder are only two games away from passing the Rockets for the #3 lottery position. If Schroder isn’t bought out and plays for them? Houston, we have no problem… with you making your roster better.

Bad: The Blazers had a firesale.

There are only a few teams behind OKC in the reverse standings that Thunder fans need to worry about catching them in the race for a top four pick. While there was some great news on that front, Portland waved goodbye (heh..) to CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Larry Nance, Jr. and Tony Snell. Hopefully a five game cushion, Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic and one of the easiest remaining schedules will be enough to keep OKC’s former playoff rival from becoming a draft lottery arch enemy.

Good: The Pacers and Kings traded with each other.

Arguably the two scariest teams in terms of leapfrogging the Thunder in the lottery race could’ve bottomed out by trading their best players to contenders. Instead, they just swapped with each other. Indiana has the same number of losses as OKC and only two more wins, but they now have Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Chris Duarte and hopefully a returning Myles Turner. OKC has a three game cushion over the Kings… but they’re the Kings. Thankfully, they have former Thunder Rising Star Sabonis and a now healthy De’Aaron Fox. They’re even trying to make the play-in tournament. Adorable.

Bad: The Lakers didn’t improve.

The Thunder owns the Clippers’ 2022 first rounder, and there’s a good chance it could be a lottery pick. Or dare I even say, a top 10 pick. But the other LA team needs to start winning to drop this LA team out of the top 8 seeds and make their road to the playoffs a much tougher one. It’s gonna be tough for Bron, Brodie and The Brow to win the Battle of LA with the NBA’s toughest remaining schedule and without adding a single player at the deadline to a team that was just beaten by the Benchwarmer Blazers.

Good: OKC didn’t trade for Tobias Harris.

The buzz about OKC taking on Tobias’s gargantuan sized contract along with his above average sized talent never made any sense. Harris would’ve made the 2022 first round pick worse, the 2023 first round pick worse, taken away minutes from the young guys, and wrecked the Thunder’s cap flexibility.

Bad: The Clippers got better (maybe).

Thunder fans have been hoping the Clippers pick would turn into a top 10 draftee, given doubts that both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will return this year. There was even buzz LAC would become sellers at the deadline to relieve luxury tax payments. But Ty Lue’s scrappy bunch admirably and frustratingly refuses to go down without a fight. It’s very Thunder of them. As a result, the Clippers went out and robbed Rob Covington and Norman Powell from Portland. OKC’s lottery pick hopes seemed to be dashed. But no so fast. The Clippers did dump Serge Ibaka. And they lost Eric Bledsoe–past his prime but still solid–in the Blazers deal. So while LAC’s deadline deserves to be in the Bad column, the jury is still out on a Clippers postseason.

Good: Kenrich and Moose are still here.

Yay, the two veteran fan favorites stay in Oklahoma City and will help this young team stay competitive!

Bad: Kenrich and Moose are still here.

Crap, the two veteran fan favorites stay in Oklahoma City and will help this young team stay competitive!

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Armed with the most cap space of any team in the league, valuable assets like Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala, and the foremost collector of assets in Sam Presti, the Thunder went into the trade deadline as the team most likely to overwhelm Verizon’s network.  And yet, the Thunder leave the trade deadline having made just one move this past week–acquiring KZ Okpala for a second round pick.

So now we are left to speculate as to the why.  With several bad contracts looking to be moved (Serge Ibaka, Tobias Harris), why didn’t the Thunder absorb those obligations for future assets?  With Kenrich Williams one of the most in-demand front court players on the market, how was there not even a whiff of a trade that seemed to be in the works?

If I had to speculate, I’m wondering if Presti views Williams as being a meaningful part of the Thunder’s rebuild, and therefore, only the most generous of offers would even be considered.  As to Mike Muscala, the fan-favorite three-point shooter has expressed repeatedly his happiness in OKC.  I have doubts the Thunder would move Magic Mike without Mike being fully on board.

And about those bad contracts? I’d hazard a guess that Presti was definitely on the phones offering to sell the Thunder’s cap space, and a deal that made sense just never materialized.  In a blockbuster trade deadline, it seemed like most of the moves were rearranging furniture rather than full-scale remodeling.

John Napier

Weekend Bolts:

Sam Lane (Inside the Thunder) looks ahead now with the trade deadline in the past.  “Few front office executives love to tinker as the season goes along more than Presti, so there’s no guarantee this will be the same group that finishes the season, but Mark Daigneault and his team have most of the uncertainty behind them and can now focus on developing the rest of this season with eyes on the next.”

Against the Raptors, Ty Jerome went viral for a sad, but funny, reason–he dribbled out the shot clock at the end of the third quarter for no apparent reason other than he forgot how time works or that he had teammates.

A quiet deadline yielded a very big positive for current Thunder players.  With the Thunder remaining $23 million below the NBA salary floor, any excess at the end of the league year will be distributed to the rostered players.

Okay, so while the KZ Okpala deal seemed inconsequential at best, it actually was an example of two smart GMs getting creative to work a deal that benefits both sides.  “The Heat have long-owed the Thunder a first-round pick in 2023. That pick was originally lottery-protected in 2023, 2024 and 2025 before becoming unprotected in 2026. Those protections made it virtually impossible for them to trade any first-round picks, because the fact those picks might convey in any one of those years meant that the Heat couldn’t trade their picks in any of them. Further complicating matters was the Stepien Rule, which prevents teams from being without a first-round pick in consecutive years. Even though the pick wasn’t owed until between 2023-2026, that rule prevented them from dealing their selections in 2022 and 2027 as well. That essentially meant that the Heat could only offer their 2028 choice in any deadline deal. As the Lakers and Jazz have found out, picks so far in the future tend not to have as much trade value as they should.  So the Heat found a workaround. On Wednesday, they made a seemingly innocuous trade with the Thunder, sending KZ Okpala to Oklahoma City for a second-round pick. Hidden deep in the press release, though, was the revelation that the Heat and Thunder had also agreed to amend the protections on that pick. Now, instead of conveying between 2023 and 2026, it can only convey in 2025 or 2026.”

As quickly as KZ Okpala was announced as acquired, he was announced as released.

In other transaction news, Lindy Waters III, a former Oklahoma State guard and a member of the OKC Blue, was signed to a two-way contract.