Kurtenbach: Trading D’Angelo Russell is part of a larger Warriors plan
The Warriors traded an All-Star player on Thursday and it’s unquestionably the right move.
It’ll take some time for everything to hash out — for all the evidence to be presented — but the Warriors’ trade of D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves Thursday looks, to me, to set up the Dubs for a brighter future in both the short and long terms.
In exchange for Russell, Golden State received Andrew Wiggins, a protected 2021 first-round draft pick, and a 2021 second-round pick.
I don’t think that Wiggins, a former No. 1 pick who has underperformed the expectations of that position, is as good as Russell. But I do think he’s a better fit for what the Warriors are trying to do both now and in the future.
Let’s not forget that Russell wasn’t someone the Warriors coveted — he wasn’t part of their five-year, light-years plan. No, he was their only option for any sort of compensation for Kevin Durant. Russell or nothing. The Warriors are no fools, they took Russell, a 2019 NBA All-Star, and signed him to a necessary new contract.
That acquisition was a reminder of Golden State’s first rule when it comes to team building — stars over everything. This acquisition is a reminder, too.
If you don’t have superstar players, you don’t stand a chance of competing for titles in the NBA. The Warriors, to their credit, strip away the rest of the pretense the rest of the league still presents. They are unabashed: acquire superstar players at any cost. The rest of the roster? Figure it out on the fly.
Thursday’s trade involved no superstars, but this isn’t a one-step process for Golden State.
Russell might be a superstar player down the line. He is only 23 and has immense talent. Maybe not. But it was made clear that he was never going to reach that level with the Warriors, a team that plays antithetically to his style and where being another star point guard was surplus to needs.
Wiggins might be a superstar player, too. Let’s be honest, though: Probably not. But he’s a wing and that’s a better fit for the Warriors than a methodical point guard. And this is a league that’s defined by wings who can score and defend. The last non-wing to win NBA Finals MVP came in 2007.
Soon to be 25, Wiggins is also having his best season as a pro. He, like Russell, theoretically has plenty of potential left to tap.
There’s a gap between the two players in Thursday’s trade, no doubt, but it’s bridged by the two draft picks, the better positional fit, and fiscal flexibility it provides the Warriors.
That last aspect is the most important part. The Warriors have set themselves up to be extremely aggressive in this upcoming offseason and beyond.
The Warriors’ top priority in this tank season was to dip under the luxury tax line, re-setting their penalties as repeating violators. Now, there’s no virtue in being cheap, but there’s nothing smart about paying top dollar for a bad team, either. In trading away Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks, and then Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans on Thursday alongside Russell (Wiggins’ contract is effectively equal in cost to the guard’s), the Warriors dipped under the line — all while acquiring six draft picks (two 2020 second-round picks, a 2021 first-round pick, two 2021 second-round picks, and a 2022 second-round pick).
In a season where they had to make the choice of Russell-or-nothing and lived up against a hard cap, the Dubs now have some room to operate and make the bold moves.
In a league where player empowerment is unchecked and stars can change teams on a whim, that’s where the Warriors should be.
If Giannis Antetokounmpo decides he wants out of Milwaukee this upcoming season, the Warriors — with a solid slate of draft picks (including their own, which should be one of the best in the NBA), a $17 million trade exemption (from the summer’s Andre Iguodala trade), and perhaps a stock-up Wiggins — can make a move. That would not have been the case if they did not move Russell.
The Sixers decide to move on from Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons? The Warriors will be ready to pounce.
There will surely be more true stars available in the coming months — that’s the NBA: no one is safe, nothing is permanent.
It might take a few moves, but the Warriors are hellbent on bringing in another superstar — on the level of Durant — to join the team’s Original Three.
The Warriors can feel safe that they didn’t sell low on Russell, either. From what I can surmise, there were few teams that had a genuine interest in the point guard, whose game already feels defined.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves, who have desired teaming Russell up with Towns for years (they’re close friends), never faded in their admiration, and with Towns’ registered disapproval of his team’s current path, Minnesota had to make a move to placate him.
The Warriors were interested to see what Russell would look like alongside Stephen Curry, who is expected to return at the beginning of March, but the positional redundancy limited optimism there, as did the team’s concession that Russell was never likely to be an even passable defender.
Wiggins isn’t any better at this juncture. He’s a high-volume, low-output offensive player that doesn’t play defense. But positionally, he fits in well next to the Original Three and hasn’t played outside of Minnesota. Like Russell, a change of scenery means the best might be yet to come for him. (Though that game has been played with Russell twice before now.)
And if Golden State can create even a small uptick in play from Wiggins — a modicum of defense or a slight improvement as a catch-and-shoot wing — then he becomes an interesting trade piece this summer as Dubs continue their pursuit for another superstar.