The Phoenix Suns are making a serious push for the 2020-21 playoffs with the addition of 10-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul.
The Suns traded Kelly Oubre, Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a 2022 first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Paul and Abdel Nader. The Suns acquired Rubio via free agency last summer, re-signed Oubre last summer while adding Jerome via the 2020 Draft and Lecque as an undrafted free agent last season.
“Chris’ leadership and competitive approach to the game will have an immeasurable impact on our team,” Suns general manager James Jones said in a team statement. “We thank Kelly, Ricky, Ty and Jalen for their contributions to the Suns. We wish each of them all the best as they continue on what we expect to be long and productive careers.”
Rubio reacted to the trade news with a tweet: “… what a business,” he wrote.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) November 17, 2020
Paul has two more seasons remaining on his contract, including a player option for 2021-22. He was an All-Star in 2019-20, averaging 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists as the Thunder surprised many NBA observers by winning 44 games and pushing the Houston Rockets to seven games in the first round of the 2020 playoffs.
It is a huge leap for the Suns, who went 8-0 inside the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World in a frantic, but futile, quest to make the playoffs. Paul is owed about $41 million for this season and has a $44 million player option for next season, which was too much of an impediment for other teams that considered acquiring him last summer.
The Suns, however, deemed it worth the risk. They haven’t made the playoffs since a run to the Western Conference finals in 2010. Paul is also president of the National Basketball Players Association. The trade reunites him with Suns coach Monty Williams; Paul played for Williams in 2010-11 when Williams was in his first season coaching the New Orleans Hornets.
“Man, I’m 35 years old and I still get a chance to play basketball every day and say that’s my way of life,” Paul said last week, when asked about trade rumors during an appearance in the Time100 speakers’ series. “That is crazy in itself so regardless what happens, I’ll be ready.”
With this trade, the Thunder have turned the total return on former Kia MVP winner Russell Westbrook into three future first-round picks and two pick swaps, in addition to a handful of players. Oklahoma City originally acquired Paul last summer in a blockbuster trade that sent Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for a 2021 first-round pick, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick swap and a 2026 first-round pick swap.
By adding another first rounder in dealing Chris Paul, that brings the total return on trading Russell Westbrook to three future firsts and two pick swaps.
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) November 16, 2020
This move, in addition to the reported Dennis Schroder trade with the Lakers, would give the Thunder 16 first-round picks between 2020-2026.
Wojnarowski reports the Thunder worked closely with Paul’s representatives — Steve Heumann and Ty Sullivan at CAA — to get him to his preferred destination. OKC general manager Sam Presti had a history of partnering with star players on trades, including ones that featured Westbrook and former Thunder stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
Paul will team with guard Devin Booker, who in his fifth NBA season made the All-Star team for the first time as an injury replacement after Portland’s Damian Lillard had to drop out. The 6-foot-5 guard saved his best moments for the bubble and averaged a team-high 30.5 points over eight games while contributing solid defense.
The Suns have some decisions to make on whether to bring back forwards Aron Baynes and Dario Saric, along with guards Cameron Payne and Jevon Carter. The 6-foot-3 Payne — who was the No. 14 overall pick in the 2015 draft — was a surprise contributor after being signed just before the Suns went to the bubble: He averaged 10.9 points as a key reserve.
Arguably the most intriguing player on the roster is center Deandre Ayton, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2018. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder is still just 22 years old and averaged 18.2 points and 11.1 rebounds. He’s also had some frustrating setbacks, including missing 25 games early in the year after violating the league’s anti-drug policy.
Ayton is most effective on the interior but has been working on his outside shot. He hit the first three 3-pointers of his career in the Florida bubble.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.