As the NBA’s moratorium on transactions lifted on Monday, the Phoenix Suns made the first blockbuster move of the 2020 offseason, reportedly acquiring point guard Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Phoenix dealt Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and their 2022 first-round pick to OKC for Paul and Abdel Nader, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The pick is protected for selections 1-12 in 2022, 1-10 in 2023, 1-8 in 2024 and unprotected in 2025, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported.
Paul will be joining his third team in four years after ascending to Point God status with the Los Angeles Clippers from 2011-17. He enjoyed a resurgence this past season, making the All-Star team for the first time in four years. Paul averaged 17.6 points (on 49/37/91 shooting splits), 6.7 assists and five rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game, leading the Thunder to a surprising fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
He will be tasked with doing the same for Devin Booker and the young Suns. Phoenix nearly made the playoffs in August for the first time since reaching the conference finals in 2010, finishing an impressive 8-0 in the Orlando bubble and missing a play-in series for the eighth and final seed by way of a tiebreaker.
The sharpshooting Booker enjoyed his own ascension to stardom this past season, and the Suns are eager to get him to the playoffs for the first time in his career, before the 24-year-old reconsiders his future in Phoenix. Paul is a step in that direction. The pick-and-roll maestro should also expedite the development of Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 and a walking double-double who improved defensively.
But Paul is 35 years old. He is a bridge to the primes of Booker’s career, and an expensive one at that. He is owed $41.4 million this coming season and $44.2 million in 2021-22. That leaves the Suns short of max cap space in 2021, when they could have pursued a younger running partner for Booker. But adding Paul now is a win-now gamble that could prevent Booker from seeking a trade were Phoenix to fail in free agency.
There are no guarantees in the West, where the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets all have playoff pedigree. The New Orleans Pelicans, with a healthy Zion Williamson, should also be in the mix for a spot.
There are fewer safer bets than Paul, so long as he is healthy. His teams have made the playoffs each season since 2010, when he suffered a season-ending left knee injury. He led the Rockets within a win of the NBA Finals in 2018, when a right hamstring injury cost him the final two games of the conference finals.
So, Paul’s health is no guarantee, either, even if a newfound plant-based diet helped him miss fewer games this past season (two) than in any season since he led the league in assists for the fourth time in 2014-15.
Meanwhile, the Thunder appear headed for a full-blown rebuild. They are reportedly nearing a deal that will send Dennis Schroder to the Lakers, which would leave only rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from the vaunted three-guard lineup that made OKC so successful this past season. Rubio and Oubre are capable contributors, but their biggest value is the $36.4 million they will save the Thunder over the next two years.
The protected pick from the Suns gives the Thunder a whopping 17 first-rounders between now and 2026, most of which came from last year’s trades of Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Few teams will be better positioned to make blockbuster trades in the future, but another Hall of Famer is leaving town now.
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