Since the day reports surfaced of the Golden State Warriors pulling off a surprising sign-and-trade for young All-Star D’Angelo Russell, rumors have flown about when and how they’ll get rid of him.
If you’re an Oakland sports fan, then you’re used to this with the Moneyball Athletics. But you’re not used to it with the Warriors. Signing players with the intention of trading them isn’t common in the NBA, and it’s virtually unheard of for teams with championship aspirations.
But reality has no qualms with what’s uncommon, and the rumors have been persistent. But to fully understand them, we have two accept two well-reported truths.
Truth #1: The Warriors did not sign Russell with the sole intention of trading him.
Truth #2: The Warriors pushed to give Russell a maximum contract in part so that they could match his salary with a star player in a trade.
Those things may contrast slightly, but they can both be true. And they both are.
Golden State isn’t simply waiting around for a Russell trade, which is why the proposed deals for role players such as Robert Covington never made much sense. But if the right deal comes around? You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll ship off Russell as quickly as they can.
Russell has hit a sweet spot in his first year with the Warriors. On the plus side, he’s averaging 24.0 points and 6.3 assists per game, while shooting the ball with nice efficiency. On the less-plus side, his advanced metrics are low, and his per game numbers have done little to keep the Warriors from having the league’s worst record, and, perhaps most concerning, its worst offense.
That’s the D’Angelo Russell experience. Good enough, but not too good. He’s played well enough that the Warriors are excited about pairing him next to a healthy Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green next year, and making a run towards a fourth title in seven years.
Yet he hasn’t played well enough to become untouchable, or anything remotely approximating it.
Which puts the Warriors in a position of power. They have all the leverage, because they’re in no need to make a move - just entirely willing to, if one makes sense.
Minnesota has dangled Andrew Wiggins, who is on a similar contract as Russell and fills a greater positional need. But from a Warriors’ perspective, that’s still a questionable talent-for-talent swap. Most around the league view Russell as better than Wiggins. It’s a move only a panicked front office would make.
Put in more umbrella terms, there are only two types of players whose contracts match Russell’s: bonafide stars, and players not worth trading Russell for. Wiggins fits firmly in the latter category.
The problem is that no one in the former category is available. Devin Booker hasn’t requested a trade (yet). Neither has Karl-Anthony Towns (yet). Giannis Antetokounmpo is competing for a title. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are getting along well enough that the situation in Philly isn’t untenable (yet).
None of that is likely to change by Thursday, which is the trade deadline.
And so we wait, and enjoy watching Russell, who is almost surely staying on the Warriors.
For a few more months, at least.