OKC Thunder: Grading the Chris Paul deal with the Suns

The OKC Thunder launched the week trading Chris Paul and Abdel Nader to the Suns. TI dives into the trade grade for both clubs.

Trade restrictions were lifted to start the week with many expecting action heading into Draft Night on Wednesday. The OKC Thunder were expected to be in the mix but the level of their involvement was a tad surprising.

Not only did Sam Presti coordinate with Rob Pelinka and the Lakers to make the first move — the Thunder also arguably made the second-biggest pre-trade move sending Chris Paul and Abdel Nader to Phoenix for four players and a draft pick.

The biggest deal occurred between the Pelicans and Bucks for Jrue Holiday, copious assets, and picks. Still, considering the additional draft night sub-deals that fell out of those two early Thunder trades it puts Sam Presti in the mix for the busiest GM of the week.

With the Thunder – Suns deal both franchises can walk away happy with the trade. Let’s look at both teams with a view to grading the trade.

Grading the OKC Thunder trade:

OKC Thunder sends Chris Paul and Abdel Nader to the Phoenix Suns. In return the Thunder receive:

  • Kelly Oubre
  • Ricky Rubio
  • Ty Jerome
  • Jalen Lecque
  • Suns 2022 first-round pick (Protections on the pick are top 12 in 2022, top 10 in 2023, top eight in 2024, and unprotected in 2025).

Suns  Grade:

After going unbeaten in the Disney bubble the Suns came up just short of competing in the play-in tournament and subsequently missed the playoffs. Head coach Monty Williams delivered an emotional speech to his roster about keeping the respect of their peers and credited his youngsters for playing with constancy.

When evaluating the Suns, pundits tended to look at them as a perpetual lottery squad. Yet, there were signs the team was headed in a new direction long before the Orlando bubble. I call it the Deandre Ayton factor. While the big man played in the first game of the season (a win) he was suspended for the next 25 games due to a positive PED test.

After serving his suspension, he got injured in his return on December 17th forcing him to miss the next five contests. In total Ayton appeared in two of the Suns initial 32 contests versus 36 of their final 41 games. The Suns’ record in the 38 games he played was 20-18 for a 52.6 win percentage. Comparatively, the Suns record without Ayton was 14-21 or a win percentage of 40 percent. Their seasonal win percentage of 46.5 percent fell in between these totals.

So you’re asking why I’m bringing up Ayton in a trade grade right? Well, I do have a method to my madness. The addition of Monty Williams as the coach added stability to the team while Ricky Rubio provided a veteran voice and another playmaker to help remove the burden from Devin Booker’s shoulders. But— for as much as everyone assumes Booker will be the greatest benefactor with Paul in the rotation the one player who arguably will benefit most is Ayton.

Clearly, Paul’s on-court coaching abilities will play a factor as will his clutch time prowess. And with all due respect to our cornerstone Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — CP3 gains an already developed superstar in Booker to aid him down the stretch. With opponents needing to concern themselves with stopping both Paul and Booker – guess who benefits most? — Deandre Ayton!

Overall, this move will help the Suns take the next step and gives Paul a young squad with a superstar to compete with. Will they perform as well as the Thunder this season?  Perhaps.

I think at the very least the Suns will be right in the mix for the playoffs but doubt they break the top four seeds without some help (read: opponents deal with injuries and extreme load management utilization).

Adding Nader to the mix is a nice parting gift to Abdel who always worked hard for the Thunder. Presti wasn’t likely to re-sign Nader so pairing him with CP3 gives him a teammate to ease into Phoenix with and it offers the Suns another perimeter scorer and all-around nice guy for their reserve unit.

Odds are the Suns will base the success on this trade solely on getting a playoff berth and since I believe that’s extremely doable – I’m grading the trade for Phoenix accordingly:

GRADE: A-

Caveat: if the Suns obtain a home court seed or win their opening playoff series the grade should be bumped to a full A or A+. Conversely, if injuries remove any of the core (Paul, Booker, Ayton, Bridges) from the mix and they miss the playoffs the grade drops to a B.

OKC Thunder Grade:

It’s impossible to not consider this a win for Sam Presti and the OKC Thunder. First of all,  let’s revisit how the Thunder arrived at this date which requires us backtracking to July 2019.

  • Paul George demands a trade
    • Notably, the trade is to ONE partner – the Clippers
    • And, the trade demand is NOT made until after the moratorium starts. We know this because Presti landed free agents Mike Muscala and Alec Burks and he doesn’t make those offers if he thinks George wants out. In fact, once Presti knew PG wanted out he offered both Burks and Muscala an opt-out (Burks took it).
    • We’ve also learned Kawhi Leonard reached out to other players so logically PG was not his first choice — hence the later trade request.
  • Presti is backed against a wall – – if he doesn’t deliver PG to the Clippers then he can expect a trade demand or “sources say” rumors to hit the media and he’ll lose all his leverage to ever get a good deal for George.
  • Simultaneously, Presti knows this also means he has to trade Russell Westbrook. A tough situation since Westbrook was ‘his guy’, the star who stayed in OKC, who put the franchise on his back, and did his best to lead the team to the promised land.

Suffice to say the situation Sam Presti dealt with in under a week’s time is almost unfathomable. Look at the current drama in Houston with both Westbrook and Harden wanting out and that alone confirms why so many players, executives, and NBA staffers consistently point to the OKC Thunder as a class organization with a well-honed and respected culture.

The other unavoidable factor is how Sam Presti and Chris Paul both turned this past season into a win-win scenario for themselves and the Thunder. Not only did Paul have to deal with the embarrassment of being viewed as the less valuable point guard in the deal but he also got burned by Morey who told him he was NOT getting traded to OKC.

While the karma is delightful, it’s also noteworthy that Paul was able to ignore how things went south in Houston and build a bond with Presti to deliver according to his word. It speaks to Presti’s integrity and reputation (and will be a strong selling point with future free agents).

In terms of the return — it’s already a major win for Presti since he’s now getting a “package” deal back for the same player Houston had to attach two draft picks and two swaps to in order to make the Westbrook deal. And, fittingly it includes yet another first-round draft pick coming to the Thunder.

As for the assets coming to OKC, we knew Rubio would likely be shopped and moved. That he was jettisoned so quickly to Minnesota was a bit surprising. As much as it would’ve been good for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to be mentored by one of the NBA’s best passing guards it also makes complete sense to get the contract off the books to gain a big risk, big reward draft prospect  (Aleksej Pokusevski).

The best talent who came to the Thunder is Kelly Oubre who TI coveted as a trade deadline target last season. As a plug and play, two-way wing he should be a great compliment to the trio of Thunder youngsters (already pretty psyched to see that defensive group).

The big question regarding Oubre will be confirming his fit and then whether he’ll want to stay and re-sign with the team. In a perfect world, the answer is yes to both questions.

The young Suns prospects (Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque) will get the opportunity to grow and develop with the new coaching staff emphasizing player development. If one or both of them succeed it’s a bonus for the Thunder.

Ultimately, the Thunder portion of this deal centers on a potential future core contributor (Oubre), a big risk-reward youngster (Pokusevski), and another first-round draft pick.

Now, if I told you 16 months ago that Chris Paul would bring all that potential back in a trade I’m pretty certain you’d agree about this trade grade too…

GRADE: A

Caveat: The long term effect of this trade won’t be fully known until the Suns draft pick is conveyed and we find out whether Pokusevski is a bust or star. The grade would drop dramatically if Oubre leaves for nothing (hard to imagine Presti won’t figure that out in advance and move him if that’s the case) and Pokusevski is a bust.

Similarly, if AP lives up to the hype, the draft pick nets a quality prospect, and/or Oubre stays I’d nudge the grade to an A+.