The Thunder‘s Trevor Ariza trade exception, created in a deal with Miami last March, expired on Thursday, as Bobby Marks of ESPN notes (via Twitter). As a result, Oklahoma City’s total player salaries and cap holds fell below the $112.4MM cap, which means OKC is now operating as an under-the-cap team rather than an over-the-cap team.
We outlined back in November how the Thunder were technically still operating over the NBA’s salary cap for 2021/22 despite only having about $78MM in player salaries on their books. A series of free agent cap holds, trade exceptions, and other cap exceptions (the mid-level and bi-annual) artificially pushed their total team salary above $115MM.
However, now that the Ariza trade exception has expired, the Thunder’s team salary has dipped below the cap, meaning the team also forfeited its George Hill trade exception, as well as the amounts left on its mid-level and bi-annual exceptions — those exceptions are all only available to over-the-cap teams.
Assuming Oklahoma City renounces its various free agent cap holds, the team will have about $33.7MM in cap room, according to Marks. OKC could’ve renounced all of its exceptions at any point to claim that cap room, but opted to stay over the cap for the sake of flexibility. As of Thursday, that was no longer an option.
In addition to having a ton of cap space, the Thunder remain $23.7MM below the league’s minimum salary floor for ’21/22, says Marks. Each season, NBA teams are required to spend at least 90% of the cap — if they don’t, they must pay the difference to their players at the end of the season.
While they probably wouldn’t be opposed to giving end-of-season bonuses to their players if they have to, the Thunder will be motivated to reach the salary floor by making trades in the coming days, since they’ll have to spend that money anyway. It won’t be surprising to see the team accommodate multiple salary-dump deals before the February 10 trade deadline, taking on unwanted contracts from teams looking to cut costs and acquiring draft picks or young prospects in the process.