D'Angelo Russell shows exactly why Warriors can't trade him this season

D'Angelo Russell shows exactly why Warriors can't trade him this season

SAN FRANCISCO -- There are at least a couple reasons why the Warriors are not likely to trade the profoundly imperfect D’Angelo Russell in the coming weeks, and one of them was on full display Friday night.

He’s an offensive closer, and his scoring in the final minutes put away the New Orleans Pelicans and lifted the Warriors to a 106-102 victory -- their first win in two weeks.

“Well, that’s who he is,” coach Steve Kerr said of Russell.

Russell has a closer’s mentality. He craves that role. His offensive presence, particularly in the final minutes of close games, keeps the Warriors from raising the white flag to full height before the halfway point of the season.

Put another way, if Russell leaves this roster before Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson return -- whenever that is -- finding buckets in the last few minutes of a tight game will be, um, something no Warriors fan wants to see.

It’s also something the franchise cannot begin to sell.

Understand, now, D-Lo’s fourth quarter was an adventure. He had three turnovers. Shot an air ball. Got burned on defense a couple times. There were moments when it appeared that he was trying to do too much on offense. Playing hero ball.

But resorting to hero ball on offense is OK on this team, at this time, and Russell is the best fit for it. The only natural fit.

“He really likes that time in the game, and he makes big shots,” Draymond Green said. “That’s more about what’s inside of you and less about your actual shot. Some people make a great shooter, but, in those moments, they don’t like those moments.

“He loves those moments, and he tends to come through in big moments like that.”

Two free throws by Green and two more by Damion Lee put the finishing touches on a night that delighted the sellout crowd (18,604) at Chase Center, but every Warriors field goal over the final five minutes came off Russell’s spindly fingers.

A 3-pointer with 4:43 remaining pulls the Warriors within three, 92-89. A pullup floater cuts the deficit to three, 95-92, with 2:06 left. A step-back triple ties it, 98-98, with 1:30 to play. A jumper just inside the arc provides a 102-100 lead with 32.9 seconds on the clock.

One man, 10 points, less than five minutes, good night.

Russell through three quarters had 15 points, on 5-of-14 shooting, including 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. His accuracy came and went as it pleased. His shot selection was spotty. There was, according to center Willie Cauley-Stein, a purpose to it all.

“He just took over the game with his pace, and he set those (late) shots up the whole game,” he said. “That’s why D-Lo is special. He be playing a game within a game. That’s why he got free at the end, becaue he set those shots up and that’s why he’s where. And that’s why he’s at this level, those plays that he’s able to just make by himself.”

Russell, 23, is a unique player insofar as he’s solo artist within a team scheme. His extended one-man possessions, dribbling and probing, as the shot clock ticks down, can leave him on an island, away from his teammates. It can look selfish. It can be selfish.

But it’s his greatest asset, the ability to score with little more than a well-set screen. And that skill often is essential in the final minutes of a close game, particularly on a team that struggles to put up points.

“Experience is key in this league,” Russell said. “I’ve been in positions where you’re down 20 with 10 minutes left and you just see a player take over a game and you just think it’s over as a young player. Or I just remember specifically playing against Chris Paul and he would just pass, and he had a strategy in the first quarter, and in the second quarter he had a different strategy. Third quarter and the fourth quarter is kind of his and he remembered. Also, I remember Kobe saying things like that as well.

“Remember, that shot is going to be there at the end of the game and stuff of that sort, so it’s just experience.”

As the talk of moving Russell continues, what must be considered by anyone interested is the cost. He’s in the first season of a four-year contract worth $117 million. He’s making $27.3 million this season, with a million-and-change bump in each of the next three seasons. It’s a tough contract to move.

[RELATED: Steph not wearing cast on hand]

But Russell’s value to the Warriors right now is high, perhaps even worth it. They need him around to keep pumping air into this deflating balloon of a season. To remind themselves what it sounds like to hear a full-throated crowd at home.

A sound that, without D-Lo to ignite it, might not otherwise be heard until Curry and Thompson are back on the court, drowning opponents with 3-pointers.

Joe Lacob discusses how coronavirus could impact Warriors' spending

Joe Lacob discusses how coronavirus could impact Warriors' spending

Last season -- when discussing the possibility of the Warriors re-signing free-agents-to-be Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson -- owner Joe Lacob was crystal clear.

"We can do whatever we want (financially)."

That might not be the case anymore.

The Warriors -- like pretty much everybody else in the world -- are dealing with the financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.

So will the NBA's indefinite suspension limit what the Warriors do with the checkbook in the offseason?

"We're looking at all of those questions and the possible answers. But I don't really have a good sense yet because I really have no idea how this is gonna shake out," Lacob told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic on Thursday morning. "We don't know what the salary cap is gonna be, we don't know what the luxury tax is gonna be.

"We don't really know what we can plan on at this point. We just have to look at a lot of different scenarios. That's what we're doing right now. It could make a huge difference, it might make no difference."

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At this point, Kawakami said: "Knowing you and your aggression -- I'm assuming it would take a lot for you to say, 'Well, let's back off this season.' Especially given Steph and Draymond and Klay. Is that your mindset still -- 'we're still gonna be going for it, that's who we are, that's the Warriors?"

"I would agree with that supposition on your end just now that we realize those guys -- with their ages -- we're in a certain window of opportunity," Lacob acknowledged. "And we would certainly like to take advantage. And that was our plan -- and still until further notice -- is our plan for next year and the next few years.

"However, a lot of things could change. And we're gonna have to adjust -- just like every other team -- to whatever the new situation is in the NBA. It's so up in the air right now. I just don't know."

One of the reasons the Warriors traded Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, D'Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans before the deadline was to duck below the luxury tax line. By doing so, they won't face the repeater tax this season or in 2020-21.

In theory, that would minimize the financial pain of factoring in Draymond Green's contract extension, the salary for a top-five draft pick, using the taxpayer mid-level exception and acquiring a veteran by using at least part of the $17.2 million traded player exception.

[RELATED: Lacob acknowledges Warriors could trade down in NBA draft]

As Lacob said, the franchise intends to stick to its plan of pulling the financial levers required to get back to championship contention.

Stay tuned.

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Joe Lacob acknowledges Warriors could trade down in 2020 NBA Draft

Joe Lacob acknowledges Warriors could trade down in 2020 NBA Draft

We don't know when the 2020 NBA Draft will take place.

We do know that the Warriors will have a very high pick, plus two more selections in the second round.

Golden State owner Joe Lacob was a guest on "The TK Show" podcast with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, and talked about the importance of the draft.

"We've never spent more time -- as a group -- on the draft as we have this year," Lacob said. "Obviously, we have a lot more time to do it. I have watched video probably of all the top players. I've watched interviews, I've watched high school highlights, AAU highlights.

"We had a Zoom call the other day where I think we had 17 people on that call talking about the draft and how we're approaching it and what the next steps are. We've got no excuse in terms of not having enough time.

"Of course the bad part about all of this is we're not able to interview or get people to come in for workouts or watch the NCAA Tournament. It's gonna be interesting. I think there's enough information out there -- and enough work being put in on our side -- that we'll be able to make a good decision."

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There are many variables in play when it comes to making said decision.

"We're gonna look at all scenarios," Lacob explained. "Honestly. I'm not gonna hide this -- we're gonna look at drafting someone at our position. Maybe we trade down -- that's a possiblity. I'm not saying it's preferred or not preferred. I'm just saying it's something we have to look at it. 

"We're gonna look at all options."

[RELATED: One thing Kerr, Dubs always looking for when building roster]

The reality is that the Warriors won't be able to narrow things down until the NBA Draft Lottery is held and they know their position.

If the lottery is unkind and they fall to No. 5 or even lower, one would assume that eliminates the possibility of trading down.

Again, we will know more once those ping-pong balls are put to work.

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