In the shortest offseason of all-time for the NBA, it was expected that GMs would be looking to wheel and deal assets at an alarming rate. Even with the Lakers’ playoff dominance on their way to the first ring of the LeBron-AD Era, the league is still viewed as wide-open by fans, players, and front offices across the board. Looking ahead to the beginning of the season (expected to be December 22 barring any delays), there are at least eight teams that truly believe they have a shot at a championship, and in a shortened season stockpiling talent is more valuable than ever. With that in mind, “win now” mode is in full effect, which has resulted in one of the more intriguing trades of recent memory: Chris Paul and Abdel Nadar are being shipped to the Suns, while the Thunder get Kelly Oubre Jr. Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and a 2022 first round pick in return.
At face level, this appears to be a win-win trade. Phoenix is coming off an incredible run in the bubble that was only spoiled by a Blazers run of similar proportions, and they should have a fully healthy and rested roster coming into the first weeks of the season. It is no secret OKC is in a quasi-rebuild state, just ask GM Sam Presti and his sixteen possible first round picks in the next six drafts, so dealing arguably his two best players in the off-season (Dennis Schröder is expected to be traded to the Lakers in exchange for the 28th pick and Danny Green once the papers go through) for high returns is a savvy move by all standards.
For the Suns, this trade is relatively low-risk, high-reward. While the Chris Paul contract is enormous (he’s making over $40 million each of the next two seasons), it’s only two more years and the Suns have the cap space to take that sort of hit. Paul is old by NBA standards, but he can still hoop. Last season alone he was an all-star, cooked the Rockets’ guards in their first-round matchup in the playoffs, and made second team all-NBA. $40 million for that kind of season is respectable, and if Paul can repeat that production the Suns will happily shell out the cash.
The other obvious factor for Phoenix is how will CP3 work next to their best player, Devin Booker. Book has always been an underrated, high volume scorer on the bad Suns teams from the past few seasons, but in the bubble he showed flashes of true greatness. The man who once dropped 71 points in a game proved to everyone his scoring prowess isn’t reliant on poor talent around him, which is good because Chris Paul is far from poor. Giving Booker the chance to run off the ball, fighting off screens and getting switches on the perimeter, opens up the playbook immensely for the Suns, and they did it fairly well with Rubio as their starting ball handler last season.
However, Rubio has never been the scoring threat Chris Paul is, and teams eventually started just chasing Book around the entire floor instead, defeating the purpose of not having him bring the ball up. With Paul, and the other scoring threats the Suns will have on the floor including Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, defenses are going to have to make a tougher decision about who to chase and who to attempt to guard face-up. It seems like a small factor, but over the course of an entire game it makes defending this team so much more difficult.
For the Thunder, this trade was about getting as much in return for Paul (and Nader, who is a solid player but is not going to elevate a team in any form) without losing their future. Presti, who has made a hobby out of tearing assets away from other teams, succeeded at both. Bringing on Kelly Oubre Jr. is a fantastic move as Oubre has gone from a third tier wing to a two-way threat, and is someone that will match well with guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lou Dort. Rubio has peaked as a player, but he can still give you 25-30 minutes of good guard play a night. Jerome and Lecque both have very limited NBA action, but boast pretty impressive G-League stats and highlight reels (if you don’t recognize the names, Jerome was a national champion at UVA under Tony Bennett that can shoot and handle, and Lecque entered the draft after a postgraduate high school season and can do things like this, which make them both possible rotation players in the future). Yet, the biggest return of the entire trade for the Thunder is still the 2022 first-rounder.
The pick, at face value, is simply one pick in a draft two years from now. If things go according to plan in Phoenix, it won’t even be a good pick. But, that pick is just another one of the multitude that OKC is harboring, which makes them one of the most dangerous teams over the next few seasons. In negotiations, trade picks take on a life of their own. The thought of what a draft pick could become is more valuable than nearly any average level player in the NBA, and they don’t directly impact salary cap limitations.
In OKC, they not only have by far the most of these picks to either draft with or trade away, they still have a really talented roster! Around deadline time in two or three seasons when the Thunder are looking to make a run, some GM somewhere is going to bite on the offer of a couple picks, and OKC is going to reap the benefits by getting a star in return. The NBA is a business, and while the Thunder current profits might take a hit, their stock is on the rise. Buy now.
Whether this trade will have any lasting effects on the season is yet to be seen. The possible Suns starting five of Paul-Booker-Bridges-Saric-Ayton is imposing, but depth is still a major question. Being able to replicate the magic/shooting consistency from inside the bubble will be impossible, but the Suns are finally taking the steps towards success, which is a win for Phoenix fans everywhere. The Thunder are always a mystery, and with a brand new head coach this season could start out rocky, but one thing is for sure: they will be in a LOT more trade talks over the next couple years. December 22nd cannot get here soon enough.