Trading D’Angelo Russell Was a Warriors’ Masterpiece Chess Move

The trade market in the NBA this year was surprisingly quiet this year — at least right up until a few days before the deadline. At that point, as usual, a flurry of trades went through. The Cavaliers bought low on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The Houston Rockets effectively flipped center Clint Capela for 3-and-D wing Robert Covington. Yet perhaps the most interesting trade was the one that sent Golden State Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Andrew Wiggins and some other pieces. 

Analysts around the league have disagreed about which team came away the victor. Here we take a closer look at the details of the Russell trade and why the Warriors ultimately won the exchange.

D’Angelo Russell’s short career with the Warriors

Trading for and then trading away D'Angelo Russell might have been a master chess move by the Golden State Warriors.
D’Angelo Russell. | Mike Stobe/Getty Images

As virtually every NBA fan knows, the Warriors underwent a serious roster change last summer, when injured superstar Kevin Durant chose to sign with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency. Durant knew that his departure would throw the Warriors into turmoil. As a goodwill gesture, he agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that allowed the Warriors to pick up D’Angelo Russell.

In the process, the Warriors also had to give up a protected first-round pick. Yet the deal was still seen as a net positive for the Warriors since their only other choice was losing Durant for nothing. Rumors about what the Warriors would do with Russell began swirling almost immediately. The common assumption was that they were only interested in Russell as a future trade piece — an assumption that proved true at the trade deadline.

Why the Warriors traded Russell

Since last summer, the Timberwolves have made no secret about their obsession with D’Angelo Russell. They view him as an ideal partner for budding superstar big-man Karl-Anthony Towns, whom the franchise wants to keep happy at all costs. Yet that still doesn’t explain why the Warriors chose to move Russell, who has the kind of talents that can benefit virtually any team.

That said, Russell was never going to be a great long-term fit with the Warriors. With Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry both missing large parts of the season so far, Russell was a useful player for the Warriors to have around. Yet the two Golden State guards should both be back and healthy next season, meaning there would be no clear cut place for Russell on the floor.

Why this is a chess move and why Golden State is better off

Andrew Wiggins has been one of the most frustrating NBA players in recent years. The former No. 1 pick has simply never been able to live up to his massive potential on either the offensive or the defensive end of the floor. Yet the Warriors are betting that their proven system can turn Wiggins into the player that everybody expected a few years ago.

The good news is that Wiggins is still just 24, meaning he has plenty of time left to turn his career around. He’ll also be an excellent fit next to Curry and Thompson, who will ensure that he gets plenty of open looks from 3-point range. The Warriors are likely also betting that their passionate forward and unofficial team leader Draymond Green will be able inspire Wiggins to take his game to the next level.

The trade also made a lot of sense beyond just the fact that Wiggins makes a better fit with Golden State’s stars. The Warriors also netted a protected 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick. Those are incredibly valuable assets moving forward. The Warriors are also likely to come away from this season with a high draft pick.

The Warriors may decide to keep those picks in order to add some young talent to their roster. Alternately, they will also have the option to trade those picks for the kind of veteran who will be able to help them get back in the title chase next year. Either way, the Warriors are in a golden position for the future.