Where will D'Angelo Russell be playing when the 2019-20 NBA season begins in October?
Free agency begins July 1. For Russell, a restricted free agent, the rumors are never-ending, but the four teams linked to the 23-year-old All-Star point guard the most are the Wolves, Lakers, Suns and the team he plays for now, the Nets.
“Minnesota is up to something," said ESPN's Zach Lowe on his podcast. "Minnesota has communicated to the league at large that they believe they have a pathway to get D’Angelo Russell."
That's what Lowe said in his podcast on Friday, one day after Minnesota traded up and took Jarrett Culver sixth overall in the NBA Draft. On Tuesday, in a column for ESPN.com, Lowe wrote that Minnesota's "pathway to a Russell deal is murky."
The trouble: Minnesota lacks cap space.
The solution: Trading Jeff Teague, Gorgui Dieng or Andrew Wiggins.
Minnesota can pull off a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn to get Russell, but doing so will be complicated and will require the Nets taking on a money that could stress their ability to sign two maximum contract free agents this summer.
Signs still point to the Nets signing Kyrie Irving, per Lowe. If they trade Russell to Minnesota and take back Teague's expiring contract, for example, they'll be hard-pressed to sign another maximum contract free agent.
That's where Kevin Durant comes in.
The Nets have long been rumored to desire Irving and Durant, but Durant tearing his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals has complicated the situation. Are the Nets still interested in Durant? And if not will they still want to pay Irving rather than continue building around Russell, who is four years younger than Irving.
Hypothetically, the Nets could add Irving now, trade Russell to Minnesota for Teague (and other assets) and then use the money Teague's contract frees up next summer on another superstar to play alongside Irving.
The problem with that is that the 2020 free agent class isn't loaded like 2019. The top free agents in 2020 are DeMar DeRozan, Draymond Green and Andre Drummond (Anthony Davis is a 2020 free agent but he's reportedly planning on signing long term with the Lakers).
The more likely scenario, as noted by Canis Hoopus, is that the Wolves, Nets and a third team work out a sign-and-trade that sends Russell to Minnesota. Here's a great explainer for how it could work:
"If Russell is signing a max contract (worth approximately $27.5 million) Teague is not enough, as that would be too much incoming salary. However, Teague plus Josh Okogie allows the Wolves to take on a near-max contract, (about $26.9 million) and Teague, Okogie, and Keita Bates-Diop/Jaylen Nowell allows the Wolves to take on a max contract. That is probably enough of a sweetener to take on Teague’s expiring $19 million.
If Russell gets less than a max, this becomes even easier. With just Teague, the Wolves could take on $24 million in Salary, so they could theoretically trade Teague and a protected first round pick for Russell, where the end trade looks something like:
- Nets send Russell to Wolves
- Wolves send 2nd round pick to Nets and Teague and a protected first round pick to Team X
- Team X receives Teague and Wolves protected first round pick."
Meanwhile, the Lakers and Suns have been linked to Russell. Last week, Russell tweeted shortly after the Suns traded T.J. Warren to the Pacers, writing "Halloween Season" with two eye emojis.
Was Russell simply looking for Halloween costumes or was he trolling his social media following knowing all well that the Suns' colors, orange and black, are associated with Halloween?
Bottom line: Everything is extremely complicated when it comes to Russell's future, and the Wolves are just a spec in a swirling rumor mill at this point.