If Kevin Durant's decision to sign with the Nets was the earthquake that reshaped the NBA, Brooklyn's subsequent trade that sent D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors was an aftershock. Instead of kicking Russell to the curb and letting him pick his next destination after getting their new core of Durant, Kyrie Irving, and DeAndre Jordan, the Nets gave him a $117 million max extension traded him to Golden State, where he'll have every opportunity to produce.
What's unclear is whether Russell will be auditioning for the trade market, or a long-term piece for the Warriors to build around. With Klay Thompson out for five to seven months, Russell projects to slide into the starting two spot, where he'll be a perimeter scorer next to one of the greatest perimeter scorers of all-time. When Thompson returns, however, Russell's future in town becomes cloudy. He's just 23 and coming off a career year, but the Warriors' backcourt is set with Thompson and Steph Curry.
The Warriors are prohibited from trading Russell until Dec. 15, while Thompson is expected to return right around the February NBA trade deadline.
Russell, who has been traded by the Lakers and Nets after two-year stints with each team, knows as well as anyone that he might not be with the Warriors for long. "You put yourself in a position to go somewhere for a long period of time and it may not be what it is a year later. That's the business ... I understand that. So whatever situation I'm in, I understand the business side of it."
Warriors general manager Bob Myers publicly denies that the Warriors acquired Russell as a trade chip.
"We haven't even seen him play in our uniform yet and a lot of people have us already trading him," Myers said. "That's not how we're viewing it. Let's just see what we have, let's see what he is, let's see how he fits."
In a way, both the Russell and the Warriors won this trade: Russell got his money, and the Warriors have options. Their front court also features Draymond Green and Willie Cauley-Stein. If Thompson returns to All-NBA form, Golden State is still dangerous, even after losing Durant.
If Curry-Thompson-Russell is a future the Warriors choose to go all-in on, they can keep that core together for the next five years. Curry's current max contract ends in 2023 at age 34. Thompson's ends a year after, also at age 34. The Splash Brothers could be past the tail end of their primes by then. That could leave a 27-year-old Russell right in the middle of his prime with the keys to the Warriors' kingdom, recruiting players he wants to compete with to San Francisco.
That's only if Myers and the Warriors brass like how Curry, Russell and Thompson fit together on the floor, and can see a future with Russell as the heir to the throne after Curry's era comes to an end. Russell has not been the best individual defender, and Golden State's biggest strength has been an unmatched ability to switch and defend all five positions. That should help Russell, who will get help when he inevitably gets caught on screens because he lacks elite lateral quickness. Less solvable is the fact that Russell, for the same reason, has been a liability defending quick guards in isolation.
Russell will also find himself off the ball more often than he was accustomed to in Brooklyn. He has admitted to enjoying playing without the ball in his hands, but there will be an adjustment period. Depending how it goes, it could be more like a trial period; the Warriors could deal him to a contender during the season or a young team that wants a point guard next summer.
One landing spot that makes some sense is Minnesota in a trade that includes Andrew Wiggins. After all, Golden State's real need is its Durant-sized hole at small forward. With Russell in the fold, Thompson can play two positions, but Wiggins has potential that a championship environment might be able to hone.
Might. There are no good options for replacing Kevin Durant on your basketball team, but the Russell trade has given the Warriors some. They can stick with a three-headed backcourt hydra, or exile Russell for wings and picks. The only certainty is that he'll be collecting.
He might be part of a three-headed hydra in the backcourt, or exiled for wings and picks. Russell will be collecting a max salary for the next four years. The only question is where.
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