Trading for D’Angelo Russell could not only help the San Antonio Spurs win now but also benefits the youth movement that’s brewing within the team.
Stagnation is even worse than failing miserably in the NBA because at least the worst teams are guaranteed better odds in the draft lottery. For the first time in the lifetimes of many San Antonio Spurs fans, the staple franchise of playoff basketball is on the verge of missing the playoffs after making it for 22 consecutive seasons before.
Giving up and straight-up tanking doesn’t align with the Spurs’ values as an organization despite outcries from a sector of the fanbase to simply scramble this roster and let the young guys get their feet wet instead of trotting out veteran lineups.
Instead of tanking, it’d be wise to make a trade at the upcoming deadline that not only benefits the short-term but instead will help the team win now with the potential to grow as time goes on. Few players fit this timeline better than 23-year-old Golden State Warriors combo guard D’Angelo Russell, who’s playing for basically nothing as a member of the new-look Dubs.
For their first season in San Fransisco, the Warriors added an exciting All-Star caliber talent in Russell to alleviate some of the pain, and cap space, left from the Kevin Durant trade. However, the Warriors have the worst record in the league and are 1-9 in their last 10 games.
At this point, the Warriors don’t even need Russell because they’re simply losing games anyway and forcing him onto a sinking ship isn’t exactly what he expected when he signed on in the offseason. Making a blockbuster trade for Russell benefits the Spurs’ immediate outlook, as well as the long-term viability of the team’s young core with a sure-fire three-level scorer and the assurance of a young All-Star on the roster.
Next: The Chronicles of D’Angelo Russell
The Chronicles of D’Angelo Russell
Early stages of Golden State Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell’s career forced him to do a lot of growing up. The 23-year-old was thrust into the first true rebuild of the Los Angeles Lakers after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Ohio State University. The turmoil of LA, and the subsequent end of Kobe Bryant’s career, forced Russell into the limelight from the start of his rookie year.
As they always do, dramatics ensued in Los Angeles and Russell was sent across the country to a similarly tremendous market in New York City. He became the face of the Brooklyn Nets and took a step forward in the 2018-19 season, earning his first All-Star bid through 81 games with a feisty up-and-coming team around him.
Now, Russell is back in flux with the league’s worst team, the Golden State Warriors, as they await the returns of former-MVP Stephen Curry and three-time champion Klay Thompson. Russell was viewed by the public as a stopgap for Golden State, adding some flair to an injury-ridden team as they moved from Oakland to San Francisco just months after the downfall of their dynasty.
Assuming the No. 1 role on a Warriors team that is missing most of its main rotation and continues adjusting to life without former-MVP Kevin Durant, Russell leads the team with a career-best 23.1 points per game with roughly the same volume and percentages as last season.
It’s not fair for Russell to have dealt with this much instability through the early portion of his career, but he persevered from it and earned a four-year, $117 million contract in the process.
He is a surefire volume shooter, an improved playmaker and one of the game’s most exciting young players today. Without question, Russell can create shots for himself or others as a lefty scoring machine and altruistic distributor when put in position to do so.
It’s no wonder why various teams are vying for a position to land the young talent.
Next: Competition on the Market
Competition on the Market
Though Golden State emerged as the team to beat in competing to trade for Russell once it was determined that the Brooklyn Nets would land two champions in Kyrie Irving and Durant, they weren’t the only team trying to lure the hot commodity. Back in July, there was expressed interested in a Russell sign-and-trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers as well as rumored interest by Orlando and Indiana.
This is to say that if the Warriors are seriously going to consider moving Russell this year, the San Antonio Spurs would be met with some competition in their pursuits.
However, the Spurs have a few traits in their favor. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is a former Spur himself and while he doesn’t have much control of the trades himself, he could easily have discussions with the likes of Brian Wright, R.C. Buford and even coach Gregg Popovich himself to work out the basketball side of things.
Having a strong working relationship between these two organizations is what makes the Spurs a legitimate candidate should the Dubs put Russell on the market. The rapport is there, and there are enough assets on both sides to get a deal done. These are two familiar organizations and opponents, having met each other in consecutive playoff runs in 2017 and 2018.
Lots of what’s been done in Golden State has been modeled off of the Spurs’ Way, and more specifically the 2014 “Beautiful Basketball” iteration of this team. Adding some players with experience like that, as well as corporate knowledge of the sport from San Antonio, could help the Warriors right the ship as their stars rehabilitate.
Next: Potential trades of various concoctions
Since Golden State has multiple trade exceptions from deals made in the offseason, there are a handful of ways that the Spurs could go about crafting a deal with Golden State. Immediately, it’s thought that the Dubs will come out next year looking to make a splash (no pun intended) with the return of Curry and Thompson.
This doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for Russell unless he comes off the bench or Thompson moves out of position to the small forward. However, that may not be a great idea considering it takes a lot of athleticism to keep up with small forwards and Klay, coming off a devastating injury, would be safer at his natural 2-guard position.
Golden State has a clear lack of depth at forward and very few established veterans left. One possible trade would include Patty Mills and Rudy Gay, two competent and reliable veterans that can help rally the team for now and provide genuine help off the bench next season when the Warriors fight to make the playoffs again. Though I don’t think it’d be wise to include first-round picks in this sort of deal, maybe a second-rounder or two could sweeten the deal.
Another idea is to replace whichever of Mills or Gay that the Warriors prefer less with two players: DeMarre Carroll and Bryn Forbes. These two players have competed in meaningful games and have shown the ability to adapt to their surrounding casts and provide a punch–Carroll as a journeyman and Forbes as an undrafted sharpshooter vying for minutes early in his career.
It wouldn’t be wise to part with any of the Spurs’ leaders in the young core: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White or Lonnie Walker IV. Still, parting ways with White wouldn’t be the worst scenario if it landed someone like Russell.
Lastly, the Spurs could offer an even swap of Russell for DeMar DeRozan. This trade wouldn’t work straight up, so the Warriors would need to offer someone on a smaller deal like Omari Spellman or Glenn Robinson III for example. This allows the Warriors crew to return next season with an established veteran All-Star instead of one who still has growing to do.
Heck, they may even like a swap of Russell for LaMarcus Aldridge since the big man is finally stepping beyond the three-point line and hitting triples.
Next: D'Lo's fit in the silver and black
D’Lo’s fit in the silver and black
Russell has set a precedent for himself as a mature leader who’s willing to do whatever it takes to be great. Yes, he’s had some mishaps in the past away from the court, but quite frankly it was nothing very detrimental and at his core, D’Lo is a kind spirit who just wants to be great.
Under the tutelage of Coach Popovich, Russell could learn to be an exceptional two-way player with improved shot selection, as well as more well-thought-out shots within an established Spurs offense.
He’d pair amazingly with starter Dejounte Murray in the backcourt, as Murray’s slashing and defense can match Russell’s shot creation and playmaking. From a basketball standpoint, this duo is a match made in heaven and they’d be under contract longer than any other active Spurs right now.
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Projecting forward, wing Lonnie Walker IV could provide wing scoring and defense as one of the most exciting two-way athletes in the game once he furthers his development. San Antonio would finally modernize all the way, embracing floor spacing and athleticism without losing any of its values of defensive effort, hard rebounding and playing for each other.
Unselfishness is one area that Russell showed huge improvement in during his stint with Brooklyn, and that should translate excellently to San Antonio should a trade occur.
The two organizations have many parallels and even a few former employees split between them. The same goes for Golden State, so there’s already a baseline of knowledge that Russell would join the team with to get acclimated with how things operate under Pop in the Alamo City.
Though there’ve been no indications this will be the case, as a hypothetical, it could help Wright carve a clear pathway for the future of the organization and help the Spurs get back on track after what’s been a dismal first half of the year.