We have reached December 15th, which is the unofficial opening of NBA trade season since it’s the date when free agents signed during the summer become eligible for trades. Ideas, rumors, and scuttlebutt are beginning to emerge.
Take this piece from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor for example. He reports, unsurprisingly, that several teams are “monitoring” Robert Covington, clearly one of the Wolves’ most tradeable and attractive players. He mentions Houston as a team that has particular interest, and of course there is a strong connection between the front offices. It’s hard, however, to see how a deal gets done that would be palatable to the Wolves.
Or Woj on a recent episode of The Jump, where he mentioned the Wolves continuing interest in upgrading the point guard spot (something that local beat guys have confirmed.) But who? D’Angelo Russell, about whom more below, is an obvious name, but does it make sense, and moreover can the Wolves put together an offer that the Warriors would be interested in?
And this is the issue with so many trade rumors: It’s easy for teams to be interested in players, it’s a lot harder to come up with deals that both teams like.
Let’s start with this question: What are the Wolves goals this trading season? I think there are a couple of different directions they could move in:
- If there is a star(ish) lead-guard/shot creator that becomes available, certainly that’s something they will have interest in. Russell is the obvious, but there could be others. The issue is the Wolves’ ability to craft a package that beats other suitors and entices the selling team.
- Moving off veterans. Clearly they will trade Jeff Teague if they can. Assuming he isn’t part of a package for a bigger name player, they probably won’t want to take on much in future salary, which limits their options, but Teague’s time with the Wolves is obviously coming to an end. Robert Covington will be of interest to multiple teams, and while I would be very hesitant to trade him, I think it’s more likely than not that he is moved by the deadline. Given how the Wolves are using him, it might not be the worst thing for him to go elsewhere, but I think they have mishandled him all year. Presumably trading him would be part of clearing future salary and perhaps collecting a draft pick along the way.
- Creating cap space as quickly as possible. Assuming a star isn’t available before the deadline, one senses that Gersson Rosas would like to achieve some cap flexibility in order to flex his roster building chops (which are a story for another day.) The way to get to cap space this summer is to use Covington to also move Gorgui Dieng. Getting off both of them for expiring contracts, and of couse Teague either traded or expiring at season’s end, would mean the Wolves could be roughly $30 million (or more!) under the cap. What they do with that space is a question, but no doubt Rosas would love to have the room to maneuver.
Who Could the Wolves Trade
In my view, everyone other than Karl-Anthony Towns could be had for the right price. Realistically, here are the guys most likely to go:
Jeff Teague: As noted, his tenure with the Wolves is coming to an end one way or another. If the Wolves can get any asset whatsoever for him, they will likely take it.
Robert Covington: I am not eager to move Cov, who I see as a very valuable player on a terrific contract for the next couple of years. Of course, that’s what makes him appealing to other teams, but I don’t think anyone is giving up star-level return for him, and I’d be hesitant to move him for anything that isn’t a clear win. I am not interested in late firsts from contenders, which is likely what they are looking at from teams like the Rockets. I’d want at least a young player who has established some ability to contribute in the NBA, and those are hard to come by. So unless Covington is part of a deal for a star, I’d rather keep him, but as noted above, I suspect they will move him.
Gorgui Dieng: They would love to move Dieng and reduce future salary, but it’s hard to see it happening unless they are willing to pay to get off the deal. I doubt they are, but you never know. Rosas would really like that cap space.
Josh Okogie, Jarrett Culver: These guys would be used either to sweeten a deal for a big name player, or as “payment” to move off the Dieng contract. I’m not sure how much value either has on the market at this point, but it wasn’t long ago that many teams saw Culver as the third best prospect in the 2019 draft. Additionally, given the nature of their current play, there is some redundancy there that could be taken advantage of in the market. Two defensive-minded wings with limited shooting ability might be one too many.
Andrew Wiggins: They aren’t going to trade him. I list him here to make the point that this might be their opportunity to move off the contract, given his relatively hot start to the season. We are already seeing regression, and I am nowhere near sold on him at the price. I would absolutely try to strike while (if) the iron is at least warmish, especially if they are going to make a play for a player like Russell. That said, I have no sense that’s even on their radar at the moment, which is too bad, but there you go.
Any of the other small contract guys could be included in a deal to make things work.
Who Could the Wolves Go After?
What they really need is shooting, but that’s quite expensive on the market. There are guys out there, but in terms of players who are very good now, it’s unlikely the Wolves will be able or willing to beat offers from contenders. I don’t think they are yet ready to start trading future assets for guys to help right now, even if there is an argument to do so.
Several of the shooters who could hit the market will do so in part because they are free agents to be this summer. That includes Davis Bertans from the Wizards and Danilo Gallinari from the Thunder, two of the higher profile guys that have been discussed. Another guy, Bogdan Bogdanovic, will be a restricted free agent.
There are plenty of lower profile guys who might be available and worth pursuing—Malik Beasley of the Nuggets or Georges Niang of the Jazz come to mind—but obviously these are not difference makers.
Of course one player who has been on the Wolves radar looms over all the trade rumors involving the club, so lets take a closer look at:
Russell was of course the Wolves’ big target during the summer when the Nets let him go in favor of signing even bigger fish. Unfortunately, the Wolves were unable to open up cap space in time and Russell took a deal with the Warriors instead that was part of a sign and trade involving Kevin Durant. Russell signed a four year contract worth roughly $117 million.
Mike wrote at length about Russell last week, focusing mostly on the downsides of acquiring him, and I encourage you to read his excellent piece. Here’s my take:
It’s clear that Gersson Rosas is looking for a lead guard who can score and distribute, particularly in the pick and roll. Whether Russell is a good fit is somewhat open to question. He is doing a lot of things well offensively: He has a career high TS percentage on a career high usage, is doling out assists without excessive turnovers, is taking more threes than ever and making them at a reasonable clip (35.3 percent) as the Warriors only consistent perimeter weapon.
The problem is he is a poor defender, which would only exacerbate a long standing Wolves problem of not being able to stop, well, just about anyone. In addition, there is some question as to how comfortably he and Andrew Wiggins could co-exist on offense, though I wouldn’t necessarily let that stop me. (Still, it gives pause. At the moment, Russell, Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns combine for about 90 percent usage. Clearly something would have to give should all three wind up on the court together in the same uniform, and it can’t be KAT, who if anything needs more shots than he’s currently getting.)
What Would the Warriors Want?
The Warriors are in a weird spot. They employ three star players (not including Russell,) but their two perimeter stars (Curry and Thompson) are on the shelf with long-term injuries. As a result, after five straight appearances in the Finals, the Warriors find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. But the core of their excellence remains on the roster, and if they can get healthy, they have a chance to return to contender status as quickly as next season.
In truth, a healthy Thompson and Curry do render Russell somewhat surplus to requirements, and moving him makes some sense. The question is: For what?
The Warriors built their early championship squads with both stars and depth. The depth has largely disappeared thanks to salary cap pressures, and of course the stars are beginning to age (and Durant is gone.) Still, if you are in charge of the Warriors, you have to try to build one more title contending roster around Curry, and presumably Thompson and Green. You would also like to relieve some cap pressure in future years.
What Could/Should/Would the Wolves Offer?
Which brings us to this. The obvious combination as a starting point would be Jeff Teague (expiring) and Robert Covington for Russell. They combine to make a little over $30 million this season, compared to Russell’s $27+ million, so it works under the cap. Covington makes a lot of sense for the Warriors in that he is age aligned with their stars, and provides value at his contract as a low usage, off the ball player. He isn’t Andre Iguodala, but he could serve a somewhat similar function as a fourth banana.
The Warriors would likely demand at least one first round pick as well, but frankly I would be hesitant to even do Covington, who I value very highly. I have real concerns about the fit with Russell as I described above. Unless there is a clear plan for the roster that deals with the defensive issues and offensive overload that Russell would bring, I’m not sure it’s worth it.
But it’s also clear that Rosas has a real interest in Russell. (Which might say something about his talent and roster evaluation abilities, but we’ll save that for another day.) I believe he would be willing to move Covington and even a protected pick for Russell. That’s simply a guess on my part, but I do think Rosas is enamored.
It’s always the smart bet that any particular trade won’t come to fruition, so I really doubt Russell becomes a member of the Wolves this season.
I have no doubt that the Wolves will try to be active in the market up until the deadline; whether they can get something done remains to be seen.
What are you hoping for? What do you expect?