According a rumor from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Phoenix Suns are in serious conversations with the Oklahoma City Thunder targeting Chris Paul.
The framework of a deal would start with veteran point guard Ricky Rubio, who Paul would be replacing, and young wing Kelly Oubre Jr., who played well for the Suns last season but was injured during the team’s 8-0 run in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble. It’s unclear exactly how the full offer would come together, but the Suns have the smaller contracts and assets to more easily pull off a stronger offer than other contenders, such as the Clippers, Bucks, Lakers, or Sixers.
Phoenix has the 10th pick in this year’s draft and attractive young pieces like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson available to sweeten the deal for Oklahoma City, though I’d assume the Thunder would only get one of those three pieces.
The deal wouldn’t stay between Oklahoma City and Phoenix, however. The Thunder’s primary motivation for moving Paul is to save money and recalibrate for their rebuild, so the larger salaries they’d absorb aren’t necessarily for players that interest them. Oubre, who will turn 25 before next season begins, is young enough to be an interesting piece, but his looming payday next summer is a headache the Thunder would rather let another team deal with. His expiring deal means he’d be a perfectly palatable addition to a rather desolate OKC wing corps for one year, but he is probably good enough to yield a return to a third team.
Rubio, on the other hand, offers little utility to the Thunder as they already have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder established at point guard and will want a younger option than the 30-year old veteran. He’s also owed $17.8M in 2021-22, eating into Oklahoma City’s financial flexibility. It’s not even half what they’d owe to Paul, but if they’re trading an All-NBA player to save money you’d figure they’d want to save as much as possible, which is why when I wrote about a potential Clippers trade for Chris Paul a couple of weeks ago I searched for third teams to take on the two-year contract of Patrick Beverley.
If finding a way to move Rubio for expiring is what this trade hinges on, the Clippers would be a certain candidate to get involved. In terms of expiring contracts, the Clippers could offer Lou Williams and Rodney McGruder, giving Oklahoma City no long-term money and even saving them a few extra million this year. Williams 1-year, $8M deal should also be relatively easy to find takers for around the league given his excellent off-the-bench performances in recent seasons, so there’s potential for the Thunder to recoup additional value and savings by flipping him. It’s unclear if other teams would be interested in Rubio and his contract, but if a bidding war emerges LA would have limited options without future first-round picks at their disposal. Lining up a three-team trade that nets value for Williams could help, along with adding Detroit’s 2023 2nd round pick (the only draft asset with any type of value LAC has). If push comes to shove, Mfiondu Kabengele could go to Oklahoma City to give the Thunder a project big man for a rebuilding year.
Financially, adding Rubio for such a package could hurt the Clippers’ chances of having their full mid-level exception at their disposal, depending on how the free agencies of JaMychal Green and Marcus Morris play out. Moving Patrick Beverley instead of Lou Williams would help in that regard, but his two-year deal negates the motivation for Oklahoma City to work with the Clippers. Finding a suitable landing spot for Beverley that doesn’t require any multi-year salary going back to the Thunder is certainly possible but probably unlikely. Still, Rubio would be a strong enough addition that the Clippers would want to say yes first and deal with their free agency plans later.