The Turf Monster: A symbiotic Suns-Thunder trade

The biggest trade of the shortened NBA offseason is genius for both sides. Let’s start with the oft-maligned Phoenix Suns, fresh off a surprising undefeated run in the Bubble, marked by clutch performances from blue-chip star Devin Booker and a very Suns-esque ending which still saw them miss the playoffs despite an 8–0 record in the restart. 

Booker has often been, and has continued to be this offseason, the subject of trade rumors. No player can stay with a single franchise for as long as he has and not expect some playoff success. This coming season will be make-or-break for Phoenix as they fight to keep their young star, who is widely regarded as a top-20 player league wide.

Enter Chris Paul, fresh off an exclamation point of a season where he took the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder on a wild playoff journey that saw the team go seven games against a loaded Rockets team. The success of Oklahoma City this season may have led to speculation that they could keep Paul, a perennially underrated point guard with endless accolades and one of the best IQs and playmaking abilities in basketball. 

But Paul is 35, and the Thunder has been stockpiling draft picks like a hoarder since it traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook. An aging point guard, whether or not they are still a star, doesn’t fit in the timeline of a team that looks to use its draft picks to contend a few years down the line. Paul proved he can still play at an immensely high level, and Phoenix rightfully saw that and went all-in with their exciting young core by shelling out a draft haul to the Thunder.

For the Suns, Paul immediately makes them a top-5 team in the West, provided he can stay healthy and avoid that dreaded aging cliff. His playmaking on ball will give Booker plenty of opportunities to shine as the lead scorer. The Suns also have a steadily improving big man in Deandre Ayton, who should see benefits in spades as he caught lobs and dimes from Paul. This has the potential to be a scary big three if Ayton can make another jump, and if nothing else, the Paul-Booker combo will be a force on offense. If the supporting cast can keep up its recent success in the Bubble and not fall back to earth, I project them to compete with teams like the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors for the third through fifth seeds in the NBA.

Oklahoma City, meanwhile, has an almost comical stash of draft picks now. General Manager Sam Presti feels like an NBA 2K player taking the MyGM mode to its wildest extremes. They played the Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul trade perfectly, getting one haul from Westbrook and flipping Paul for another. They certainly seem to have won the Westbrook trade given the turmoil he’s going through in Houston, and the Thunder now have endless options as they gear up to rebuild. They could use most, if not all, of the picks and flood their team with young talent, or shell out picks to acquire exciting young stars from the trade market. It will be exciting to see what Presti does here, and Oklahoma City should feel great about its future and great about its recent asset management given the circumstances.

For the Suns, I give this trade an A-. There’s risk in trading a lot of assets for a 35-year-old player, but Paul has proven he can maintain a great deal of value. The risk is minimized by the presence of a young, surging cast around the Suns’ stars. And the bottom line is that Booker can remain in Phoenix, happily playing on a higher-end contender. Keeping a young star like him separates the good franchises from the miserable.

For the Thunder, I give this trade an A+. This comes to show just how incredible the front office is at managing its assets, and not being blinded by a ragtag group making a surprise playoff appearance. They have a focus on the future, and they are squeezing as much value as possible from every meaningful asset they have.