Suns owner Robert Sarver is bringing the future Hall of Fame guard and franchise leader to Phoenix, delivering star Devin Booker a running mate. After finishing last season by going 8-0 in the bubble and establishing momentum, the Suns suddenly are set to become a factor in the Western Conference this season.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks reports that in a cost-saving measure, the Suns could elect to hold off on the trade until the moratorium is lifted on Sunday. That would allow the Suns to use salary-cap space first and circle back, acting like a team over the cap.
Paul, 35, will reunite with Suns coach Monty Williams, who coached the point guard for one season (2010-11) in New Orleans. The team went 46-36 that season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
“His basketball mind,” Paul said of Williams in December, “I used to get so excited before games about the plays he was drawing up.”
Paul was acquired by the Thunder last summer from the Houston Rockets in exchange for Russell Westbrook, two future first-round picks and two pick swaps. By adding another future first-rounder, it increases the haul for Westbrook to three firsts, plus the pick swaps (along with one successful year with Paul).
Paul had a resurgent year with in Oklahoma City, reclaiming his reputation as the “Point God” as he took command of OKC’s young roster to lead it to a surprising playoff berth. Paul made the All-Star Game for the first time since 2016 and was named to an All-NBA team (second) for the first time since 2016.
He has been plagued by injuries at various times during his career, but Paul had one of his most complete and durable seasons with the Thunder, missing only one game because he was mourning the loss of close friend Kobe Bryant. In 70 games, Paul averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds. He also led the league in clutch-time scoring, spearheading the Thunder in close games, which is what propelled them to the 5-seed in the West.
Paul’s sizable contract — two years remaining at $80-plus-million total — combined with his age made him previously thought to be a nearly untradable player. But he’s moved twice in two years now, with the Suns believing Paul’s bounce-back season in OKC has paved the way to Western Conference contention and validating the price tag on his contract.
The Thunder have a track record of working with star players and their representatives, and as they did with Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Westbrook before, Thunder general manager Sam Presti worked with Paul’s representatives at CAA, Ty Sullivan and Steve Heumann, to get Paul to his preferred destination.
For the Thunder, it’s part of the repositioning and rebuilding plan that was set into action after George was dealt to the LA Clippers, which then resulted in Westbrook moving to the Rockets. After agreeing to deal guard Dennis Schroder to the Los Angeles Lakers for a first-rounder, the Thunder now have as many as 17 future first-round picks between the 2020 and 2026 drafts.
The Thunder might not be done yet, either, with the potential to sign-and-trade unrestricted free agent Danilo Gallinari to a contender or move center Steven Adams for more draft capital. They also could reroute some of the recently acquired veterans such as Danny Green (acquired in the Schroder trade), Rubio or Oubre.
But for now, the Thunder officially embark on a long-awaited rebuild, handing the franchise keys over to budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who tutored under Paul’s guidance last season. Then they wait to cash in their war chest of draft picks, with their next future franchise star still possibly waiting to get his driver’s license.