Chris Paul and the Thunder have a real chance to pull an “Oh how the turntables” (Michael Scott, The Office) moment on the Rockets and Clippers with a potential surprise playoff run in the bubble. They have already shocked the basketball community by winning 42 games and being a half-game away from the 4 seed in the Western Conference. If the season hadn’t been cut short due to COVID-19, the 2020 Thunder could have exceeded last year’s Thunder team record of 49 wins with two-star players.
Everyone remembers the iconic step back buzzer-beater by Damian Lillard to send the Thunder to a first-round playoff exit. That shot had supposedly sent the Thunder into a complete rebuild in which they proceeded to trade their two best players.
Paul George was coming off the best season of his career but was traded to the Clippers for rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round draft picks, and two pick swaps. In addition to this landmark trade, the Thunder also shipped out Russell Westbrook, the face of their franchise and the undisputed best Thunder player of all time.
Westbrook went to Houston and in return, Chris Paul came to OKC with his sizable contract. OKC also received two first-round picks and the rights to swap two additional first-round selections. All in all the Thunder had received a handsome amount of draft capital to last through 2026.
The expectations for the Thunder in 2020 were to take a major step back and most likely miss the playoffs as few pegged the Thunder as a playoff team much less a contender in the tough West. As previously mentioned, the Thunder have massively overachieved this year due to a true team effort. Their best player is Chris Paul, and he is the 4th leading scorer on the team.
Numbers cannot truly do justice to what this team has been able to accomplish. All of their top four players have improved, and Billy Donovan has proved the doubters wrong about his ability to be a quality head coach in the NBA. Everything has clicked this year for the Thunder, and it can most certainly result in this franchise going further than they did last year despite losing their star duo.
Once this season concludes, however, the OKC Thunder have a few more options on the table that can play a role in their future because of their success in 2020. An option that was previously not available to them before this season is to trade most if not all the picks they received from the Clippers and Rockets in exchange for pieces that can help them build a true championship roster.
The thinking here is that the sheer volume of picks they have to offer should be enough to lure a couple of teams into trading an All-Star level player on a subpar or rebuilding team.
Since the Thunder were able to get a high seed in the West, in theory, adding more star power and quality role players to put with Chris Paul should increase their chances to contend. This idea hinges upon one main factor, how many players are even on the market that fit what the Thunder could be looking for.
While there isn’t an abundance of wasted talent in the league, as a lot of stars are either on contending rosters or teams that will be great down the line, there are a few potential options. In terms of true star power, names like Bradley Beal and CJ McCollum could be available this offseason. An abundance of picks would certainly help the Wizards rebuild and Beal would flourish next to Chris Paul.
McCollum is unlikely, but if the Blazers decide to blow it up after realizing they have already reached their ceiling, a trade to receive lots of draft capital would not be out of the picture. A couple of other options include Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge since both teams seem to be getting younger by the year.
This effort by the Thunder may seem like a solid option that could yield a championship roster in theory, but the market is very clouded. In addition to a questionable market, there will be even more contenders throughout the following seasons as the Nets and Warriors will be squarely in the title mix joining the same teams that are in the championship favorites conversation this year.
Adding another star next to Chris Paul also begs to question, as good as CP3 is, is he really good enough to be the first or second-best player on the best team in the NBA right now at the age of 36 and only getting older? The simple answer is no considering the balance of star power around the league. Trading the picks they smartly acquired last offseason this early is a risk not worth taking and the Thunder should focus on using those picks to strengthen the future of their franchise.
While trading the picks they acquired is valuing Chris Paul too much, committing to trading him no matter what is devaluing the “Point God”. The main focus before the season seemed to be to trade Chris Paul sometime in the near future because his contract and age don’t fit the Thunder’s new long term plan. OKC was and still could be in the market of dealing away CP3’s large contract to a contending team that can use a veteran point guard.
Potential teams that have been rumored to be interested include the Knicks, Lakers, and Heat. The Knicks and Heat have the young assets and enough draft capital for a fair deal, but the Lakers do not because of the Anthony Davis deal. The Laker’s priority should be to sign Anthony Davis to a long term deal anyway.
The Heat and Bucks are intriguing teams because they both possess the young talent and are in positions to benefit from bringing in an All-Star point guard that can help position themselves even better in the championship landscape. The Bucks would benefit more as CP3 is an upgrade over Eric Bledsoe and would complete a big 3 of Giannis, Middleton, and Paul.
However, the Heat probably have a better package to offer as Herro, Nunn, and Robinson are all potential young assets in a deal. Bam Adebayo will undoubtedly be made untouchable as he is the best out of the young core and the most valuable to the team’s future.
The Thunder’s success yields multiple positives in this situation. The first positive is that more teams will see the value of adding CP3 now that they see their impact on the overachieving Thunder team. More teams could be willing to get over the big contract if their championship odds swing the right way.
The other positive for the Thunder is that there is a compelling argument for Chris Paul to stay for the remainder of his contract because of his impact on the team, especially young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. According to both, Paul has mentored SGA and the impact is noticeable. SGA has improved his game in all areas as his stats in nearly every category have seen a significant jump.
The Thunder should only trade Chis Paul if a deal is too good to be true. Otherwise, they should keep Chris Paul and continue to be a good team that can get even better. After all, being a good team with a bright future due to the stocked draft picks is better than rushing a deal to build around or get rid of CP3 only to see the franchise’s future decline as a result.