The Golden State Warriors made perhaps the most surprising move on the first day of free agency in agreeing to a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets for D'Angelo Russell that'll pay him $117 million over four years.
Even without knowing the full terms of the deal, it's a fascinating trade that leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
First and foremost...
What are the terms of the trade?
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Warriors will send a future protected first-round pick to the Nets for Russell.
Deal will include Golden State sending a protecting future first-round pick to Brooklyn, league sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/BndEZPRblo- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 1, 2019
In addition to Russell, the Warriors will get Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
More players and picks could be included between now and when it's made official.
How does D'Angelo Russell fit on offence?
Russell is a talented scorer who has the potential to complement Stephen Curry well in the backcourt.
Russell averaged a career-best 21.1 points per game last season, doing so 43.4 percent shooting from the field and 36.9 percent from the perimeter. Half of his scoring came as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls, making him one of only five players - the others being Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Lou Williams and Donovan Mitchell - to score 10 or more points per game on those plays.
In wake of Kevin Durant joining the Nets and Klay Thompson expected to miss most of next season as he recovers from a torn ACL, the Warriors will benefit from having another ball handler who can create his own shot. Similar to Curry, Russell is a threat to score at all three levels with the ball in his hands, having made 34.9 percent of his 3-point pull-ups and 45.7 percent of his 2-point pull-ups last season.
Russell should have plenty of space to work with in Golden State, with Draymond Green setting screens for him and Curry spotting-up on the wings.
Russell, of course, won't have the same opportunities with the Warriors that he did with the Nets. He'll likely spend more time off-ball, with Curry being the team's No. 1 option.
It'll be an adjustment for Russell - he had the fifth-highest usage rate in the league last season, ahead of even LeBron James and Russell Westbrook - but he does have the skills to thrive in that role. According to NBA.com, almost a fifth of Russell's shot attempts last season were catch-and-shoot 3s, and he made 39.4 percent of those opportunities.
Even though he's a point guard by nature, Russell has the size to function as a shooting guard at 6-foot-5, allowing Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to play him and Curry together. Depending on how Kerr staggers the minutes, the Warriors could have 48 minutes of All-Star play at the point guard position next season, as well as two shooters and playmakers down the stretch of games.
Russell is also an incredibly gifted passer. With him, Curry and Green on the floor, the Warriors have a trio of smart facilitators who should be able to get the most out of whoever is surrounding them.
There might not be another team in the league that can roll out three players with the passing acumen of Curry, Russell and Green.
What about defence?
The Warriors could struggle defensively next season, to say the least. Durant is gone, Thompson might not return until the second half of the season and the Warriors had to part ways with Andre Iguodala to create the cap space to acquire Russell.
While Iguodala will turn 36-years-old at the midpoint of next season, he was still one of Golden State's best perimeter defenders when push came to shove, matching up with the likes of James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams in the playoffs.
Russell, on the other hand, has never been known for his defense. (A whopping 333 players had a better Defensive Real-Plus Minus than him last season, for what it's worth). Curry is a better defender than he's often made out to be, but the two of them together will give the Warriors a feeble backcourt that the best offensive teams in the league will look to exploit.
That'll put a lot of pressure on Green to shore up their weaknesses, though don't be surprised if he has one of the best seasons of his career. If Green makes an All-NBA team or is named Defensive Player of the Year next season, he will be eligible for a five-year, $235 million supermax extension in the summer of 2020.
Green's case for a spot on an All-NBA Team or a second Defensive Player of the Year award might start with him keeping the Warriors in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency. Whether or not he alone can keep them at a high enough level in the playoffs to actually compete for a title, however, seems unlikely as long as Russell and Curry are logging big minutes together.
What happens when Klay Thompson returns?
As The Athletic's Danny Leroux noted, Russell, Curry, Thompson and Green will combine to make $118.8 million next season, leaving the Warriors with very little room to fill out the rest of the roster now that they are hard capped at $138.9 million.
It could bring the end of DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney's time with the team, as well as Jordan Bell's depending on what type of offer sheet he gets as a restricted free agent.
In other words: Golden State is sacrificing a lot of depth in trading for Russell.
That will be less of a problem if Curry, Russell and Thompson can figure out a way to make it work, but it's not the cleanest of fits. Both Russell and Thompson will likely have to play out of position, with Russell operating more as a shooting guard and Thompson as more of a small forward.
Both of them have the size and skill to do that. It's just not the best way of utilizing him.
Similar to Green, there will also be a lot of pressure on Thompson to pick up the slack defensively, only in the backcourt instead of the frontcourt. Thompson is used to defending the opposing team's best perimeter player, but asking him to do that coming off of a serious knee injury is not ideal.
That leads us to...
Could the Warriors trade D'Angelo Russell?
Yes. And according to Marc Stein of The New York Times, they likely will.
That doesn't necessarily mean the Warriors shouldn't have traded for him, though. Had they not, they wouldn't have gotten anything for Durant. This way, they have a one-time All-Star who has yet to enter the prime of his career to potentially flip at some point over the next four years for pieces that set them up better to complete.
The Warriors have reason to believe teams will be interested in trading for Russell. One that might be at the top of the list? The Minnesota Timberwolves, who were reportedly trying to clear space to acquire Russell before Golden State swooped in out of nowhere.
The Warriors won't be able to move Russell immediately, but his trade restrictions will be lifted ahead of next season's trade deadline. The Warriors could therefore sell high on him if he plays well as Thompson's replacement ahead of his return.
All in all, the Warriors got Russell on a moveable contract that could help make up for some of the loss of Durant, it not immediately then sometime in the near future.
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