The Golden State Warriors entered Sunday afternoon with the overwhelming possibility that Kevin Durant - the crown jewel of their free-agent pursuit - would leave the Bay Area.
Around 3 pm PT, Durant made true on those fears, spurning the Warriors to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, putting the Warriors future in peril. Then, six hours later, Golden State acquired Brooklyn guard D'Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade deal with the Nets. For the last six months, the Warriors have grappled at the prospect of losing Durant in free agency. Now, on the eve of day 2 of free agency, the Warriors have perhaps the best consolation prize possible.
Russell - who agreed to a reported four year, $117 million extension Sunday evening - averaged 21.1 points and seven assists 81 games. His performance earned him the right to negotiate a max extension with the Nets. However, in the weeks leading up to free agency, with the Nets pursuing a Durant-Kyrie Irving partnership, Russell's days in Brooklyn seemed to be numbered. On Sunday morning, the Nets agreed to a deal with the Nets, opening the door for Russell's Golden State arrival.
Russell enters Golden State as the franchise finds itself at a crossroads. Three weeks before Sunday's sign-and-trade, Klay Thompson tore his ACL, prompting a rehabilitation that could extend to March of next year. With most of Thompson's season shelved and Durant gone, the Warriors were left to figure out how to make up the 47 points per game the two provided. Additionally, the Warriors were forced to trade Andre Iguodala - a pillar to Golden State's dynasty - to the Memphis Grizzlies to absorb Russell's salary.
Worse, with the Warriors currently just 18.2 million below the league's hard cap - according to salary cap expert Nate Duncan - and nine roster spots left, Golden State will have trouble rounding out their team.
The move also comes on the heels of Russell's career reclamation project. Three years ago - while a member of the Los Angeles Lakers - Russell recorded a video of teammate Nick Young admitting his infidelity to then fiancé and pop star Iggy Azalea.
The following season, despite averaging 15 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds, then general manager Magic Johnson opted to trade Russell to Brooklyn, citing maturity concerns. In two years, Russell has shed the ills of his first two seasons, averaging 19 points, 6.3 assists and nearly four rebounds, helping the Nets advance the playoffs for the first time in four years last season.
Now, D'Angelo will assume the next phase of his career: temporary co-star to Stephen Curry. With Thompson out for much of the season, and the rest of the roster uncertain, Russell will have to assume a sizable slice of the offensive burden.
For much of the season, the Warriors have assumed Durant's departure this summer. On the first morning of free agency, the prospect of a life without him on the roster. By the of the night, with Durant gone, the Warriors regrouped and got perhaps the best option available.