On the surface, Monday's trade of center Byron Mullens by the Oklahoma City Thunder was a routine deal that shed salary cap space and freed up a roster spot.
But look beyond the immediate benefits and you'll see layer upon layer of byproducts.
First, the Thunder netted an unconditional second round pick in 2013 by shipping Mullens and cash to Charlotte. Before we go any further, it's important to note exactly how much value that alone could be for Oklahoma City.
Essentially, the Thunder obtained a high second-round selection in exchange for a third-year center whose value was diminishing by the day and figured to plummet if given another season of sitting the bench. The Bobcats won 34 games last year and are in full blown rebuilding mode. A crummy year by Charlotte next season would mean the selection owed to OKC could be among the first few in the second round, but more on that in a bit.
In the meantime, the deal clears Mullens' $1.28 million contract off the Thunder's payroll this season. It's not the biggest wad of cash. But, remember, All-Star forward Kevin Durant's extension kicked in this year and it contains the 5 percent bump allowed under the “Derrick Rose Rule,” which pays Durant more than the franchise envisioned. Additionally, with the Thunder now free from its $2.2 million obligation to Mullens next season, that coin can be set aside to absorb All-Star guard Russell Westbrook's impending extension.
Beyond the financial freedom, the Thunder also received roster flexibility both in the short and long term.
The move left the Thunder with 15 players under contract, the maximum allowable under league rules. But one of those players is Nate Robinson, who has agreed to not join the team this season and is expected to officially part ways the Thunder soon. Robinson's spot can — and perhaps likely will — be filled with rugged forward Ryan Reid. Or, if Reid becomes the final camper cut, the spot can be left unfilled for greater flexibility down the line. For example, if the opportunity for a mid-season trade arises that calls for the Thunder to take back two players and send out only one, having an additional roster spot would allow that type of deal to go through.
Something else to keep in mind is that the Mullens trade now extends the time the Thunder has to find a solution for Robinson. In other words, rather than be forced to iron out a buyout with Robinson before Saturday's 5 p.m. deadline for rosters to be set, the Thunder could retain him into the season and wait for a more attractive trade offer to come along. For that to happen though, Oklahoma City must cut Reid, which seems an unlikely scenario considering league rules state the Thunder would forfeit its rights to the 57th overall pick out of Florida State now that he's participated in training camp.