D’Angelo Russell’s career has been defined by instability. Russell began his career with the Los Angeles Lakers but found himself lacing up for the Brooklyn Nets after an underwhelming stint in LA. In Brooklyn, he showed he belonged in the NBA and later signed a lucrative deal with the Golden State Warriors. Russell essentially served as a half-season Kevin Durant consolation prize for the Warriors before they traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Acquiring Karl-Anthony Towns’ best friend was a smart move, but his time in Minnesota has been rocky. Still, Russell has undoubtedly made a positive impact in the Twin Cities, not only on the court but also off it. Russell is the major reason why there is a new wave of men’s basketball culture at Target Center.
On the court, Russell has had his fair share of bright moments as a Timberwolves player. Last year, he willed the Wolves to their first playoff series since 2016 by carrying the team past the Los Angeles Clippers in the play-in game last season. Russell hasn’t been without his lows either, including his struggles against the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs.
In his short time in Minnesota, the fans and analysts have lived the true DLo experience. Most people have gotten used to his ups and downs by now. Many fans can live with them, but some still want the Wolves to deal him before the trade deadline. Russell unfollowed the Timberwolves on social media, only adding fuel to that fire. However, I’ve never actually seen anything materialize out of something like that.
No matter what you think of D’Angelo Russell’s ability as an NBA player, there is one underlying fact that can not be avoided in the DLo trade discussion:
The Wolves have no other options.
When you trade four first-round picks for a guy on a mega contract, you’ve sort of locked yourself into a core. In Minnesota’s case, that core was Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Jaden McDaniels. DLo was on the outside looking in of that core, but since he wasn’t involved in the original trade, it was probably fair to say Tim Connelly and the Timberwolves had future plans with Russell in them. It would be poor judgment if the only reason Russell hasn’t been traded is that the Wolves front office can’t admit to their mistake of keeping him in the original trade. But there is plenty of reason to believe this is not the case.
First, we’ll talk about the trades themselves. But before that, a reminder that there has been zero concrete evidence of what a potential trade package would look like. I’d also like to mention that trading Russell at the deadline would be another miscalculation in the Gobert trade. If Russell is ultimately traded at the deadline, using Malik Beasley and Patrick Beverley’s contract instead of Russell’s ends up feeling like a waste.
Minnesota has two main trade targets in a Russell deal. The first is Fred VanVleet, which is also the most unrealistic. Although VanVleet would be an amazing fit. He’s a more traditional point guard than DLo, who’s really a combo guard. But VanVleet is also a better defender. The problem is that VanVleet holds more value than Russell, so the Wolves would have to dig even deeper into their depleted asset bag to get him. While VanVleet is having a down year, the Wolves would be dealing with one of the best front-office minds in the league, Masai Ujiri, in trade negotiations. Masai has also long been unwilling to trade players while they are at their lowest value.
Kyle Lowry is also emerging as a trade target. Although Lowry would be a more realistic get for the Wolves, he is a worse player than Russell. Lowry may have been a better player in his prime, but he’s 36 now. He has already missed six games this year and will only miss more as the season progresses. Lowry was a huge negative in the Miami Heat’s playoff games last season due to a hamstring injury. And the Wolves simply can’t afford an injury-ridden point guard with so many injuries to the roster already.
With no real home-run replacement at the point guard position, the Wolves could have potentially opted for someone they already have to run the point and trade Russell for a wing player. Before the season, I would have whole-heartily agreed with this take. But it’s no longer an option with how things have unfolded this season.
Why? Because the Wolves have no viable options currently on the roster to replace Russell’s playmaking.
Jordan McLaughlin is a potential replacement. But his health concerns this season have spoiled that thought. Although he has been extremely good for the Timberwolves while healthy, McLaughlin has only logged 18 games this season. With no real timetable for his return, the Wolves desperately need Russell’s production.
Anthony Edwards could also run the point. Point Ant has been a future I, and many others, have dreamt of since he entered the league. Ant’s ability to drive an offense scoring through himself and others would be tremendous for the team’s future. Ant has shown flashes of that ability, but he is not yet ready to function as a primary point guard every game of the season – let alone the playoffs. Edwards’ main problems are his speed at recognizing and acting upon a pass and poor decision-making. Case in point: He has the eighth-most turnovers in the league.
Russell hasn’t exactly shown out in his time in Minnesota, especially this season. But with no real replacements available, the Wolves need him. Ultimately, retaining D’Angelo Russell at the deadline is more due to a bad point guard market than anything else.