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ESPN’s Kevin Pelton gives Phoenix Suns B- grade for Chris Paul trade

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 24: Chris Paul #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts during the second half of game four against the Houston Rockets of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 24, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)

Future hall of fame point guard Chris Paul is heading to the Valley to join the Phoenix Suns, the team announced on Monday night.

The Suns will be trading Kelly Oubre, Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a protected 2022 first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Paul and forward Abdel Nader.

Following the news, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton graded both the Suns and the Thunder in their respective trade acquisitions.

Pelton gave Phoenix a B- and while giving Oklahoma City an A.

The Suns will retain their Bird rights on restricted free agent Dario Saric and will also have the $9.3 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception available to add to the roster. I would have preferred the $17 million in cap space, but Phoenix can reasonably argue that Saric (age 26) is younger than anyone they could realistically have signed and that the midlevel will yield a second useful contributor.

Besides the timing of the trade, the structure is interesting too. The Suns needed to add one low-salaried player in the deal. Instead, they ended up including two: 2019 first-round pick Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque, who signed a three-year deal last summer as an undrafted rookie.

It’s tough to say which side insisted on Jerome being in the deal, but his inclusion suggests Phoenix no longer valued him as much as last year, when the Suns took him No. 24 overall. Jerome suffered an ankle sprain in practice just before opening night, sidelining him the season’s first month, and never got on track. He shot just 28% from 3-point range and 38% inside the arc and saw only 13 minutes of action in blowouts in eight bubble games.

The Suns were able to keep their No. 10 overall selection in the 2020 NBA Draft and instead traded away a protected 2022 first-round pick, which would be the draft following the conclusion of Paul’s contract at the end of the 2021-22 season.

Pelton writes that the downside for Phoenix now is that the team can’t trade its 2021 first-rounder because of the Stepien rule that prevents teams from being without first-round picks in back-to-back drafts in the future.

And with the emergence of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson last season, the wings will get a larger role with the departure of Oubre.

After all, the Suns were without Oubre in the bubble and still managed to go 8-0 and were a Brooklyn Nets buzzer-beater jumper away from making the play-in round.

All told, this is pushing the limit of what Phoenix could have given up while still making this trade a reasonable value. Even if Paul struggles with injuries and aging, the Suns haven’t really compromised their long-term prospects to get him. By the time Phoenix’s payroll gets more expensive in 2022-23, when starters Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges have completed their rookie contracts, Paul’s $44 million salary will be off the books. So this deal was worth the risk for the Suns.


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