Paul, 35, is coming off an extraordinary season in which he averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists while leading the Thunder on an unexpected trip to the playoffs. A consummate floor general and team leader, Paul earned all-NBA second-team honors and the 10th all-star nod of his distinguished career. The Suns will hope Paul can duplicate that effort with a supporting cast in Phoenix that looks superior to the one he led in Oklahoma City. Phoenix (34-39) finished 10th in the West last season, and Paul’s arrival could boost the Suns into the bottom half of the conference’s playoff bracket.
Booker, 24, is a gifted scorer and shot-creator who should thrive with the extra spacing that will be created by Paul’s outside shooting ability. Paul and Booker should pair together much like Paul paired with James Harden on the Houston Rockets, and Williams will be able to stagger the minutes of his two star guards to ensure that he always has a high-level playmaker on the court. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix’s 22-year-old center and the 2018 No. 1 draft pick, could be the biggest beneficiary of Paul’s arrival. Previously, Paul helped transform DeAndre Jordan into an all-NBA player during their time together on the Los Angeles Clippers. Ayton should benefit from Paul’s pick-and-roll setup skills and veteran wisdom.
This trade signals three major developments: Phoenix’s commitment to reaching the postseason after a splendid 8-0 run through the bubble this past summer, Paul’s slightly diminished standing as he ages through his 30s and Oklahoma City’s pursuit of a full-scale rebuild.
The Suns have not always been willing to spend big in recent years to acquire talent, but their efforts to create salary cap space enabled them to take on the $41 million owed to Paul this year and his $44 million option for next year. That’s no small investment, especially considering that NBA teams are adjusting to a new financial reality in which the coronavirus pandemic has threatened to keep fans out of arenas this season. Phoenix will hope Paul can remain an impact player through the duration of his contract and that its young core pieces will be ready to take the reins for good after two years of tutelage. It’s worth noting that Paul, who enjoyed excellent health with the Thunder, missed at least 20 games in each of the three previous seasons.
While Paul remains a high-level player, his advancing age and max salary probably dissuaded many top contenders from pursuing him as a missing piece to put them over the top. The Milwaukee Bucks were briefly linked to interest in Paul this offseason, but those talks never gained much traction. Paul’s domineering personality has rubbed some teammates the wrong way, and Phoenix will be his third team in three years and his fourth team since 2017.
Oklahoma City has responded to the pandemic by deciding it will cut costs and play for tomorrow. The Thunder parted ways with respected coach Billy Donovan after five seasons and replaced him with a first-timer in Mark Daigneault. In a separate trade that hasn’t been finalized, the Thunder has agreed to send sixth man Dennis Schroder to the Los Angeles Lakers for Danny Green and a draft pick.
The dominoes could continue falling from there; forward Danilo Gallinari figures to be a coveted free agent, and center Steven Adams could emerge as another trade chip. Oklahoma City appears to be retooling around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a 22-year-old guard who is coming off a breakout second season, and it remains to be seen whether Rubio or Oubre are players it wants to keep or use as possible trade assets. Thunder GM Sam Presti has assembled an unprecedented war chest of draft picks — a total of 17 first-rounders through 2027 — after moving Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Paul and Schroder since last summer.
Oklahoma City’s decision to move Paul, which came on the first day of the NBA’s transaction window, could be an early sign that the pandemic will lead teams to cut costs by trading prominent players. The Rockets, for one, have been rumored to be investigating trades involving their two high-profile stars, Harden and Westbrook.