We’re just a little more than a week away from the arrival of D’Angelo Russell Day for the Warriors and the rest of the league. As of December 15, Golden State will be allowed under NBA rules to trade away Russell, who came to the Warriors last summer as part of the sign-and-trade that sent Kevin Durant to Brooklyn.
Executives around the league have operated under the assumption, since the Durant-Russell deal went through in July, that the Warriors would flip Russell as a trade asset, probably as soon as possible. “It’s just going to come down to when they want to do it,” one exec told Heavy.com. “Could do it now. Could do it later. But they’ll do it.”
Yet as December 15 looms, the Warriors have been decidedly quiet on the Russell trade market, according to sources around the league.
“If it is something that they’re going to do quickly, like before the end of this month, I wouldn’t say they’re pushing for it,” one general manager said. “Maybe they have a deal in mind, maybe they’re sitting on something and laying low. But I’d be surprised. That’s not how they’d approach it, I’d think. You want to create a market if you are going to trade a player like him, you want to pit teams against each other, drive up the price. You don’t want to lock into one deal. But the market thing, that’s not really happening yet. They’re not pushing the market for him.”
Russell has played well this season, even if it is for a woeful Warriors team that looks nothing like the bunch Golden State expected. He’s struggled to stay healthy, most recently dealing with a finger injury from which he returned on Wednesday, but in the 11 games he’s played, he has averaged 23.7 points on a 45.8 percent shooting, getting to the free-throw line 5.5 times per game—all career-highs.
Gauging the Warriors’ D’Angelo Russell Options
The lack of activity around Russell now could mean a few things.
First, the Warriors have no need to trade him immediately—or at all, for that matter. Golden State could hang onto Russell for the remainder of the season and explore the kind of deal they could make around the draft for him, especially with the Warriors’ draft pick expected to be in the upper lottery.
Because the Warriors are in a win-now mode, with Steph Curry at 31 years old, they might not have much interest in picking and developing a rookie, especially in a guard-heavy draft. Packaging Russell and the pick could yield a hefty return in June as the Warriors look to vault back into contention in the West.
There is the notion that the Warriors would hold on to Russell even into next year, so that the team could investigate how he works in a three-guard lineup with Curry and Klay Thompson. Golden State has let it slip that could be the approach but take that with some caution. The GM speculates that is a, “smokescreen” designed to make the Ws look less eager to trade Russell. The more options the Warriors appear to have with Russell, the more they can drive the market upwards.
There is, no doubt, serious interest in Russell whenever the Warriors finally do begin to shop him. The Timberwolves are the obvious landing spot, because they’ve coveted Russell for better than a year now and might have signed him last summer if not for his desire to dodge the harsh Minnesota winters. They have a handy expiring contract—Jeff Teague at $19 million—which is useful for the Warriors, who are hard-capped and can’t accept additional salary.
If there is a team that has a deal in place with Golden State, the Wolves are the most likely culprit. The Warriors would also love to get hold of Robert Covington, an ideal fit for them on both sides of the ball. Covington is slated to make $11 million this year.
The Wolves have been using a starting lineup without a point guard lately, with Jarrett Culver and either Josh Okogie or Treveon Graham (all shooting guards) in the backcourt. Teague and Shabazz Napier have been coming off the bench. Russell would fill an enormous need.
The Timberwolves would not, of course, be alone in their pursuit of Russell. The Magic are in need of an offensive boost and had interest in Russell in free agency. Miami, Detroit, Chicago—there are sensible fits out there for Russell.
But with December 15 fast approaching, the Warriors aren’t pounding the pavement for a trade. Plenty of teams would like to make a Russell deal. The Warriors are dealing in patience for now, though.