The trade deadline usually does not matter much to bottom-dwelling teams. When the 2022 NBA trade deadline passed on Thursday, no one was surprised that the Oklahoma City Thunder did not make a big move. The Thunder's only trade was acquiring KZ Okpala from the Miami Heat, a fairly minor move.
Still, with all that being true, not being more active at the deadline could have been an error for OKC, especially with regard to salary dumps.
Thunder's biggest 2022 NBA Trade Deadline mistake
First of all, we need to appreciate the genius of the Thunder and the Heat when it comes to the Okpala trade. As CBS Sports reports, a seemingly hidden clause of that deal was that a future first-round pick from the Heat to the Thunder was amended. In simpler terms, a pick that was top-14 protected in 2023 was changed to a protected pick in 2025, and if that has not been conveyed, it would be an unprotected pick in 2026. That means that the Thunder could get a great pick if the Heat do not stay competitive by 2025, while the Heat can now use 2023 and 2024 picks in future trades.
That's a boon for Oklahoma City, but general manager Sam Presti will regret not taking advantage of his team's cap ample space by acquiring unwanted contracts sweetened by draft compensation.
Right now, the Thunder have $79 million on their salary cap for this season. If that number looks small, it is because it is very small. For comparison, according to Basketball Reference, the second smallest wage bill in the entire NBA is the Memphis Grizzlies, which have $114 million tied up. Obviously, that will jump next season, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be paid much more than his $5 million salary for this season, but it also has other implications.
NBA rules stipulate that a team must spend at least 90% of the salary cap on its players. Otherwise, the total difference between the team's cap number and salary floor will be doled out evenly among incumbent players. According to Hoops Rumors, Oklahoma City will become the first team to do so this season after failing to bring in additional salary at the trade deadline.
Apart from that, the Thunder could have been more active on the trade market for two reasons: salary dumps and young guys.
For instance, the Houston Rockets discussed a deal for John Wall with the Los Angeles Lakers as the clock hit the end of the trade deadline. While the Rockets wanted to get their hands on a first-round pick for taking on Russell Westbrook's contract in a Wall trade, the Thunder could have called earlier and tried to sneak a deal for at least a second-round selection from the Rockets. It seems unlikely, but the Thunder should have tried. Also worth considering was a call to the Atlanta Hawks for Danilo Gallinari, who is on a rich contract that runs through next season. Being win-now, the Hawks could have possibly traded the Italian forward together with some pick just to clear space and attack the trade market themselves.
When it comes to young guys, the Thunder seems to be stacked. Apart from Gilgeous-Alexander, they also have Luguentz Dort, Tre Mann, Josh Giddey and many others. They also have a distinct lack of big men, and that is where the Sacramento Kings could have helped them.
Right now, the Thunder have 19 future second-round picks. Two second-rounders probably would have bought the Thunder a ticket into the four-team trade that landed the Detroit Pistons Marvin Bagley III. The former No. 2 overall pick is hardly a surefire rotation player, but would certainly have been worth a flier for Oklahoma City considering its dearth of young talent up front.