Though it was no secret that the Oklahoma City Thunder were looking to move Chris Paul, it was still a fairly shocking NBA development [as reported by The Athletic’s Sham Charania] to learn that the Phoenix Suns and OKC agreed in terms for a trade that would send the veteran point guard to the Valley of the Sun.
The deal would pair the aging superstar with a Devin Booker who is rapidly approaching his prime. For the Phoenix Suns, this is at best a puzzling move, and at worst, just a poor basketball decision. This trade has the optics of a win now move, while not being enough to actually be a win now move. Chris Paul does still move the needle as a top level point guard, but is unquestionably beyond his prime as a player.
The Suns appear to be gambling that Paul will still retain enough of his value while Deandre Ayton and Booker improve enough that they will collectively be enough of a force to compete for an NBA championship. The problem with this strategy is that Ayton is still years away from his peak and Kelly Oubre was a key cog to ship away that could have helped them right now.
Suns fans will likely be more than a little disappointed in this move. Though Chris Paul is a player anyone would want on their team, destroying a young core should never be done unless for very good reason. It seems here that the Suns are settling for a lazy combination of trying to win now and remain competitive in the future. In even the most optimistic outlook, the Suns will be marginally better in the short term and be a bit more exciting to watch.
With Kelly Oubre, Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker all under the age of 25 and a lottery pick in this year’s draft, the correct play was to be patient. Rather, it seems that they fell under the allure of having a big name talent don their jersey in his waning years. This move may have set the franchise back by five years or more. The additional future first round pick to the Thunder makes the deal that much more puzzling.
The Thunder on the other hand may have struck one of the best deals in recent NBA memory. Though common NBA wisdom states that the winner of any trade is the one who receives the best player, that is not true here. Chris Paul is hanging on to his greatness by a thread and is not getting better. OKC, with this trade, has shown a full on commitment to their youth movement.
In fact, OKC is in a sense having their cake and eating it too. Committing to young players often means a slow painful rebuild as the team finds their way again. The Thunder on the other hand have young players that are just shy of their primes and improving rapidly. No, the Thunder will not be title contenders this season, but they are starting over without going through the painful parts of starting over.
Only time will truly determine the winner of this surprise trade, but the optics are not good for the Phoenix Suns. The Thunder were the ones with some pressure to get a deal done as Paul was looking to be moved, however it was the Suns who desperately mortgaged their future for a chance to improve around the margins.