While those decisions play out, the Thunder added another trade exception to use at its discretion. In a nutshell, trade exceptions allow teams to make trades for up to the amount of the exception without matching salaries with another team. Because the Thunder is not taking back a player, league rules allow Oklahoma City to receive a trade exception of approximately $1.38 million, which is Mullens' $1.28 million contract plus an additional $100,000. The exception is good for one calendar year and will expire on December 19, 2012.
Although an extreme example, Thunder general manager Sam Presti executed a deal while in Seattle that illustrated how valuable trade exceptions can be. Rather than retain Rashard Lewis, Presti agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that sent Lewis to Orlando. In exchange, Presti landed the Sonics a second-round draft pick and a $9 million trade exception. He then used a portion of the exception to acquire Kurt Thomas and two future first-round picks from Phoenix — a deal then-Suns president Steve Kerr, now a television analyst, recently called “one of the worst trades in NBA history.” Presti then traded Thomas to San Antonio for two players and another first-round pick. The three first-round selections eventually became Serge Ibaka, Byron Mullens and Cole Aldrich.
While the much smaller exception obtained in the Mullens deal shouldn't be expected to net the same return, we've quickly learned to never underestimate the creativity of the Thunder's front office. Which is why the 2013 second-rounder from Charlotte shouldn't be overlooked either.
Rewind to the 2010 draft. The Thunder made out like bandits in swapping the 32nd overall pick (originally belonging to Minnesota) with Miami in exchange for Daequan Cook and the 18th overall selection. Two years from now, a similar coup could again characterize Oklahoma City's draft night.
Even if the Thunder stands pat with the Bobcats selection, it could turn out to be the biggest byproduct of the Mullens deal. With the luxury tax set to become even more punitive in two seasons, and Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins potentially all playing on extensions by then, it will be vital for the Thunder to be in position to add cheap labor at that point. And picks 31-35 historically have offered steals that require only minimum contracts early on.
Add it all up and there's a ton of value to be found in the routine deal that flew under the NBA radar Monday.