Moore: How Warriors’ Trade for D’Angelo Russell Opens Up the Possibility for an Even Bigger Move

Moore: How Warriors’ Trade for D’Angelo Russell Opens Up the Possibility for an Even Bigger Move article feature image

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Warriors CEO Joe Lacob

  • The Golden State Warriors pulled off a surprising trade for 23-year-old D'Angelo Russell in the wake of losing Kevin Durant to the Nets.
  • Matt Moore analyzes the trade and explains why it could mean the Warriors have a really big move up their sleeves.

So … the Warriors did some stuff.

The day they lost Kevin Durant in free agency to the Nets, most thought that pretty much wrapped up the short- and long-term future for the Warriors. They were re-signing Klay Thompson to a five-year max, they wouldn’t have much flexibility beyond that, they might keep Kevon Looney, and that’s that.

Well, no, it turns out, not so much.

The Warriors talked the Nets into a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell in exchange for Durant. The Warriors will reportedly send a protected first-rounder in the deal.

What a weird, weird trade.

The immediate reaction to this trade was “Huh?” Not just from NBA Twitter but from people inside the league, one of whom texted, “Not sure what the Warriors are doing with this one.”

It’s not that Russell is bad, but given they have two guards on max contracts, it seems weird to add Russell — a high-upside, high-mistake guard — on a four-year, $117 million deal.

There are three explanations: 1) They really like Russell; 2) They plan on using him as a stop-gap and then trading him for parts, or 3) There’s a bigger move afoot.

The first is relatively obvious. Russell ranked in the 67th percentile on catch-and-shoot last season and in the 64th percentile in pick and roll (including passes). He’s phenomenal with his left-handed runner (80th percentile). He’s athletic, he’s 23, he had a real Steph-like quality at Ohio State. I’m hesitant to use that comparison for anyone, but his distance shooting and spark on the court is similar.

The second, also pretty obvious. Klay Thompson could be out until anywhere from December to March (or later). They can wait until they get a sense for when Thompson’s going to be back and then make a deal. The one that was immediately buzzed around Twitter and has been mentioned by ESPN’s Zach Lowe is a package with Minnesota (which badly wanted Russell to begin with). The Wolves could deal shooter and top-level defender Robert Covington as part of a trade package, giving the Warriors a role player around their Big 3 to replenish the depth they’ve had to surrender with the max salaries.

The third option, however, is super interesting.

For his entire tenure, Joe Lacob has sought to transcend the traditional laws of the NBA universe when it comes to building a team. The “light-years” quote is his most famous contribution but it reflects a mindset that was shown in the Kevin Durant acquisition. He doesn’t want a good NBA team. He doesn’t want to fade out as the Warriors core slowly ages out.

He wants to keep a superteam and keep competing for titles every year. There won’t be another cap bump like there was in 2016. So they’ll have to use resources in hand.

Oh, hey, look at that, a 30-year-old Draymond Green is a free agent next summer. Way back in November, Ethan Sherwood Strauss of the Athletic touched on that in the context of the tension between the Warriors and the now-departed Kevin Durant:

Unless there are other forces at play. Draymond Green will be 30 years old when he’s up for his next contract, which would be a $226 million super max in 2020 if he had his druthers. Draymond turned down a more modestly priced three-year extension in pursuit of a bigger prize. He is an amazing basketball player, who’s still underrated. You could see him continuing a career of defying NBA odds well into his 30s. Then again, not everybody buys this trajectory. Some within the Warriors might note that NBA longevity correlates with size, and shooting, neither exactly an advantage for Mr. Green.

The Warriors will never replace what Draymond Green has meant to them, but they could get a good starter at a third of the price going forward. You think Joe Lacob is unaware of this? And if losing Draymond is the cost of keeping KD? Lacob’s choice is obvious, emotions be damned. Of course, losing both players is, theoretically, the worst of all worlds, and a real possibility in this high stakes poker game. But the cost of paying these salaries keeps rising and there’s still an open question as to whether the Warriors want Draymond at the price he sees fit. That question would be open even if KD left. One wonders if this current catastrophe presents its own opportunity, its own pretext. As another Master of Coin once said, “Chaos is a ladder.”

Now, maybe D’Angelo Russell is that third star. But a more intriguing opportunity is this one: the potential for packaging the combined $45.8 million for Russell and Green together during the season. We’re running out of stars in the NBA to switch teams, but if one were to be available midseason the way Anthony Davis was, the Warriors would be able to provide a young star on a long-term contract and Draymond Green who can be retained or let loose to clear up his $18 million.

My big point here is that the Warriors have the capacity for a capital-B Big move this season. They’re at $116, the projected cap, for 2021 without Draymond Green and with only Curry, Thompson, Russell, Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole on guaranteed contracts for 2020-2021.

Do you expect Lacob to just re-up Green on a max deal, locking in three over-30 stars on long-term deals?

Things also might have changed, though. Anthony Davis is the only real superstar slated to be a free agent next year. The Lakers’ acquisition of Davis may have fundamentally shifted the forecasts of both LA and Golden State.

But my first thought when they acquired Russell was not that this was the only thing the Warriors could do, nor that they were just game planning to make moves to keep a good team around Curry and Thompson. It was that there is a bigger plan in play. Now this is speculative, and no league sources indicated any signs that something like this were in the works, but two executives queried on the idea did say they found the idea of Lacob, Meyers, and company going gently into the good night unlikely.

“They have the talent, resources, and mindset to keep swinging for the deep ball,” as one source put it.

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