On Monday’s edition of The Lowe Post, host Zach Lowe float a purely speculative trade idea, where the Minnesota Timberwolves would send D’Angelo Russell and two top-3 protected first round picks to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Dejounte Murray. While this was just an idea, the thought process behind the Wolves and Spurs as trade partners makes quite a bit of sense.
On the latest @ZachLowe_NBA podcast, a hypothetical (i.e. not sourced or reported) trade idea was floated out involving the Timberwolves.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) June 21, 2022
Would you trade:
D’Angelo Russell + two top-three protected first round picks
San Antonio has a lot of nice players, Murray included, but they do not have anything resembling “the guy”. They don’t necessarily need to take on a long-term rebuild, but it would also make some sense for them to get a few assets with the hopes of eventually finding their own Anthony Edwards. Murray is still young, but with a big extension on the horizon, the Spurs could decide to bring in a nice haul for Murray and commit to building towards a brighter future. The current iteration of the Spurs does not have a path back to contention, making Murray available could.
While it’s unlikely that this is a deal that would go through, the fact that it was mentioned on Lowe’s podcast suggests that it has either 1) been floated in league circles or 2) is an approximation of value for both players based on some league intel.
If the Wolves could swing a deal to acquire Murray for D’Lo and two lightly protected first round picks, they should unequivocally do so.
For one, Murray is a really, really good player. He made his first All-Star game in 2022, putting together an impressive 21/8/9 campaign with outstanding defense as well. Murray was a do-it-all player for the Spurs, and that’s what makes him so valuable, even more-so on a good team. The 21ppg this year came on below average efficiency, but a large portion of that had to do with the fact that, on a bad Spurs team, Murray was asked to play a role that doesn’t fit him.
At his best, Murray could be an ideal third-best player on a really, really good team. His box score numbers wouldn’t be as impressive as his near triple-double line from this past season, but a player who can be a fine third option, while being a plus rebounder and passer, along with elite defense is exactly the kind of player that fits with Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
As hinted at, Murray’s scoring is about fourth on the list of on-court reasons to trade for him. This team desperately needs help rebounding the basketball, and while that traditionally comes from beefing up the forward positions, adding a big guard who attacks the glass is another way to help alleviate that issue. It doesn’t hurt that Murray has also developed into a marvelous passer and playmaker. He is someone who thrives in transition, and would fit nicely in Chris Finch’s offense.
There’s even good reason to believe that Murray would score more efficiently in a different role in Minnesota. While operating as the first option in San Antonio, Murray settled for a good amount of long twos. Those would likely be cut to a certain degree as he played a bit more off of someone like Ant, and wasn’t forced to be the main/sole creation hub in general. In situations where Murray played more off-ball, he shot it at an ok clip. On catch-and-shoot 3s, Murray shot 34.5%. That’s not lighting the world on fire by any means, but it is substantially better than his 28% on pull-up 3s. Leaning a bit more into the C&S opportunities would naturally lead to better efficiency.
Even aside from all of that, the most exciting reason to bring Dejounte Murray to Minneapolis is his defense. He made an All-Defense team in 2018, and led the league in steals this past year. He’s 6’4” with a 6’10” wingspan that he actually uses. He’s long as hell, and he is light on his feet. He can make life miserable for guards and wings, and I would imagine a return to a competitive team would only unlock more of the All-Defensive talent that we’ve seen in the past.
If the speculated deal were to be made, can you imagine a defensive lineup of Patrick Beverley, Dejounte Murray, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels (or Vando), and Karl-Anthony Towns? The Wolves would easily be able to switch 1-4 in that alignment, and would surely live with Towns on the perimeter in many situations as well. That lineup could struggle to rebound of course, but it might not matter given how many turnovers and bad shots they would force. Even if the spacing on offense wouldn’t be perfect, it would be worth sacrificing a bit on offense to throw that type of defense at teams.
Murray is due for an extension soon, and it will likely be a max or near-max extension, but trading for Murray gives you his Bird Rights anyways. That extension only ends up inhibiting you if Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez refuse to pony up for the luxury tax. Plus, his current deal is a bargain. Dejounte has two years left on his current deal at just $16M per year. That is an absolute bargain given the player he has become.
I understand some queasiness from Wolves fans about the cost to acquire him, as D’Lo plus two top-3 protected first rounders is definitely taking a big swing, but I think that is more indicative of the situation the Wolves find themselves in with Russell. This is not a free agent destination, the team will need to be aggressive in order to continue to upgrade. In general, to upgrade the team, I generally assume the Wolves will have to part with a first round pick. Teams rarely give away good players without getting one in return.
I’d also imagine that any team taking on the last year of Russell’s contract will ask for a first rounder to do that favor as well. You can quibble over the protections on the picks, but getting All-Star-ish talent does not come cheap, especially when the money you are sending out is a negative asset as well. In short, trading Russell for an improvement is likely to take two first round picks. That presents a risk, for sure, but it’s a worthwhile one.
Now, the calculus changes a little bit if San Antonio holds firm on getting the full Jrue Holiday package, as was reported late last night. Holiday essentially went for two first round picks and two pick swaps. That adds another dimension to all of this for sure, but I would also be rather surprised if San Antonio actually got that big of a haul, unless there is a team out there who is as desperate as Milwaukee was at the time of the Holiday trade. Bottom line, I think it’s a no-brainer at the original price. Throwing two pick swaps in as well would make this a real all-in type move, and I’m not sure that’s where the Wolves are quite yet in their development arc.
Atlanta and San Antonio have discussed a deal that would swap John Collins for Dejounte Murray, sources said. Spurs have told interests teams that moving Murray would require a "Jrue Holiday-like package." More league-wide trade notes @BR_NBA: https://t.co/Q06G8qLlVu— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) June 23, 2022
If that’s the cost to move D’Lo, I’m sure some would argue that the Wolves would be better off just holding onto Russell and having him play out the final year of his deal. On paper that makes some sense (I’d still trade for Murray anyways), but it fails to remember that these players are humans. If you believe that Russell would be a jolly piece of the locker room while playing on an expiring contract, after receiving extension offers that he likely would see as disrespectful, I’ve got some beachfront property I’d like to speak to you about. That’s not reporting or anything close to it, but players as good as Russell generally do not take well to being asked to take a pay-cut or play on an expiring deal.
Russell is absolutely well within his rights to not want to play on an expiring deal, by the way. That’s not a fun situation for anyone, so I don’t want this to come off as blaming Russell or calling him a bad teammate by any means. I just don’t know why anyone would assume he’d be happy to play out the final year on his deal without any future security.
At the end of the day, it is of course very unlikely that Dejounte Murray ends up in a Timberwolves jersey. For all of the reasons that Minnesota should want him, San Antonio surely does too. It would require a shift in organizational philosophy from a team that has pretty strongly avoided tanking or rebuilding for a while now. Still, Murray is a dream fit in the backcourt with Ant, and that alone makes this a fun exercise.