NBA rumors: D'Angelo Russell committed to Warriors before Wolves meeting

NBA rumors: D'Angelo Russell committed to Warriors before Wolves meeting

The Timberwolves went all-in on signing D'Angelo Russell last summer.

They came up short, as D-Lo ultimately signed a four-year, $117.3 million max contract with the Warriors (although he technically signed the deal with the Nets and then was traded to the Dubs).

In July, we learned some details about Minnesota's pursuit of the 2019 Eastern Conference All-Star. And through a recent conversation between Russell and Anthony Slater of The Athletic, more information has come to light.

Spoiler alert -- the following anecdote might make you cringe a little:

Russell, sources said, had verbally agreed to the deal with the Warriors before he went to the meeting with the Wolves. There was no knowledge of how extravagant of a pitch Minnesota had planned. It wasn’t a quick in-and-out.

The Wolves — with all their power players present, including owner Glen Taylor — took Russell on a helicopter ride over Los Angeles, before delivering him to a private locale for a recruitment presentation they’d been planning the previous month.

On the helicopter trip back, good vibes in the air, news broke of Russell’s near agreement with the Warriors. Phones buzzed. The mood in the cabin changed. The rest of the date sounded quite uncomfortable.

“An awkward goodbye on the tarmac,” one source said.

Sheeeeesh, that's pretty brutal.

[RELATEDWhat D-Lo said about Dubs fans during free agent meeting]

And then to makes matters worse for the Timberwolves, Russell torched them for 52 points back on Nov. 8 (but Minnesota did win the game in overtime).

Still, the fans at Target Center got an-up close glimpse at what could have been. And they'll get one more opportunity to watch Russell in person this season, as the Warriors play in Minnesota again on Jan. 2.

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D'Angelo Russell's career-high 52 in Warriors' loss sparks Kobe memories

D'Angelo Russell's career-high 52 in Warriors' loss sparks Kobe memories

MINNESOTA -- In the fourth quarter of a familiar game at the Target Center, D'Angelo Russell found himself at the top of the key with the game on the line. 

Guarded by Andrew Wiggins, Russell drove to the lane and made an off-balance shot, sending the game into overtime, capping a night in which he scored nine of his team's final 11 points in regulation. 

That was four years ago, in a Lakers uniform, with the watchful eye of organizational legend Kobe Bryant on the other side of the court.  

"Kobe was like 'you got that,'" Russell told NBC Sports Bay Area following Friday's 125-119 loss to the Timberwolves. "He was coaching me through it."

The moment gave Russell the belief that he could be an NBA player, turning the midwest arena into fertile ground for another outburst. 

On Friday, it happened, as Russell scored a career-high 52 points, including 35 in the second half, carrying Golden State to the brink of its third win of the season. 

"One of the best performances I've seen with my two eyes in person," Warriors forward Alec Burks admitted. 

Russell's dominance was apparent from tip-off. In his first seven minutes, he scored 12 points, helping Golden State take an early 31-29 lead, making a diverse array of shots. Five minutes into the game, he took a dribble handoff from big man Omari Spellman and made a jump shot, drawing a foul on Wolves guard Treveon Graham in the process.

Two quarters later, Russell made a rainbow jumper over 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng, capping off a 14-point third quarter, showing that he was locked in the zone all night.

"You don't even know what time of the game it is," Russell admitted. "You just get in that zone and look up, you've got 20 and then you look back up and you've got 40."

His most impressive play was reserved for his best friend -- Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. Up 108-106 with 30 seconds to go, he sized up Towns, before draining a 21-footer to give the Warriors a four-point lead, prompting a forceful declaration. 

"He can't guard me. He knows that," Russell boasted. "He's a great dude, great competitor but he knows he can't guard me."

Russell was so confident in the result he waved off guard Alec Burks once he saw who was guarding him, with sound reason. 

"I just thought it was the best matchup," Russell said. "If Alec had Karl on him -- just the mismatch -- I think we would all give him the ball and attack as well. It just happened to be Karl." 

The performance was a welcome sight for Russell. Though he was averaging 19 points per game entering Friday's game, Russell was shooting just 38 percent from the field. Entering Friday, the Warriors were minus-80 when he was on the floor. Worse, in the midst of his season's previous best effort -- a 30 point performance against Phoenix -- he sprained his ankle, missing three games as a result. 

Russell returns as the Warriors are in dire times. In the last 10 days, five players have missed games due to injury, including star guards Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, who will both be re-evaluated in February. Additionally, Draymond Green didn't travel with the team on the current road trip to treat a torn ligament in his left index finger. Of the 10 active players in Friday's loss, none were with the team last season, putting more of an offensive burden on Russell's shoulders. 

Friday's performance comes as Russell is still trying to find his way on a new team. Coming off an All-Star season in which he averaged 21.1 points and seven assists for the Brooklyn Nets, the 23-year-old is forced to carry his team offensively for a Warriors team ravaged by injuries.

[RELATED: Bad pattern developing for Warriors]

Similar times followed Russell four years ago. Bryant -- like the rest of the battered Lakers roster -- forced the rookie to find his game. Over the next four games, he averaged 19.5 points, five assists, showing -- like Friday evening -- he's more than up for the task. 

"That was probably one of my best games my rookie year," Russell said. "Showed me what I was capable of, honestly."

Warriors' poor rebounding becoming a pattern, leads to another defeat

Warriors' poor rebounding becoming a pattern, leads to another defeat

Nine games into the season, the young Warriors are starting to turn proclivities into patterns. One of the most damaging, and most easily corrected, habits cost them a game Friday night.

They were, for the third time this season, clobbered on the glass.

They lost all three games, the first two of them decisively. The third one, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, simply got away.

Outrebounded 59-49 by the Timberwolves, who rank 21st in the NBA in that category, the Warriors left Target Center brooding over a 125-119 overtime loss that ought to stick in their collective gut until they take the floor Saturday night in Oklahoma City.

And, honestly, should be in the back of their minds as they approach every game this season.

The Warriors were as competitive as they were – including having a four-point lead with 29 seconds remaining in regulation – mostly because D’Angelo Russell, returning after a three-game absence, was sensational on offense, scoring a career-high 52 points, including 21 of the 33 points the team scored in the fourth quarter and OT.

Russell, however, might have provided the best illustration of the Warriors’ rebounding sins.

About 25 seconds after burying a 3-pointer that pulled the Warriors into a 116-116 tie with 3:03 remaining in OT, Russell was standing flat-footed as a Karl-Anthony Towns jumper bounced off the rim. As D-Lo was standing and staring, Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie sprinted around him and tipped the ball in for the bucket.

In a game with 20 lead changes and 13 ties, the Warriors were done. The tip-in initiated a 9-3 run that kept Minnesota in front until the final horn.

“We had control of the game and we just let it slip away,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Minneapolis.

“It’s unfortunate. Our guys played really hard, played well enough to win. But give Minnesota credit. They made big plays down the stretch. They got some offensive boards that we’d like to . . . see better box-outs."

All D-Lo could do after seeing Okogie’s tip-in was grab his head with both hands. He’s veteran enough to know he was at fault. His fundamentals did not exist, and he had been outhustled.

To be fair, Russell wasn’t the only Warrior in the paint as the shot went up. Indeed, all five Warriors were in the paint, and the other four advanced toward the rim from other directions. And, still, Okogie – the only Minnesota player inside the 3-point arc – got the tip-in.

That was typical on a night when the Timberwolves snagged 20 offensive rebounds, which led directly to 35-13 thumping on second-chance points.

The first time the Warriors were beaten so soundly on the glass came on Oct. 27 at OKC, when the Thunder rode a 50-39 advantage to a 28-point win that left the Warriors embarrassed. The second time came on Nov. 1 at Chase Center, where they were outrebounded 52-39 by the Spurs. There’s your pattern.

In the other six games, the Warriors were either competitive or posted a rebounding edge. In their two wins, against the Pelicans and Trail Blazers, the Warriors combined for a plus-23 on the glass.

Their best rebounding game came right after being humiliated by the Thunder. They went to New Orleans the very next night and pulled a season-high 61, to 41 for the Pelicans.

It so happens that this also was the first of a back-to-back road set. If the Warriors attack the glass with similarly smarts and aggression, against a team that punished them two weeks ago, they can claim a measure of revenge.

[RELATED: Kerr confused by report on Steph]

The great Pat Riley, when he was head coach of the Showtime Lakers, had a simple four-word saying that holds true 30 years later: No rebounds, no rings.

In the case of the young Warriors crawling their way through this season, the phrase needs only slight alteration.

No rebounds, no victory.