Warriors

Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO -- Seven months ago, D'Angelo Russell stepped into a Las Vegas arena with an uncertainty uncommon for a player days removed from signing the biggest contract of his life. 

“You just put yourself in a position to go somewhere a long period of time. It may not be what it is and that’s the business," Russell said at the time. "I’ve come to a realization of that, and I understand that. So every situation I’m in, I know the business side of it. We’ll see. I can’t predict it.”

Russell's summer curiosity came as the Warriors found themselves in transition. A week prior, the 23-year-old was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Durant, agreeing to a four-year, $117 million contract along the way. As Russell prepared for his first season in the Bay Area, his new team was reconciling a season without Klay Thompson and eight new players on the roster. All the while, pundits questioned the fit, citing his ball dominance wouldn't mesh with All-Star Stephen Curry. 

On Thursday, the Warriors decided Russell's time was up, trading the guard to the Minnesota Timberwolves for forward Andrew Wiggins and a bevy of draft picks in a move that the team's decision-makers say was necessary for roster continuity. 

"To be perfectly blunt, the fit was questionable when we signed him," Kerr admitted on Friday. "Nobody questioned that. When you already have Steph and Klay and you add a ball-dominant guard, you can rightfully question the fit."

 

Kerr's words echo what the team began to know as the season went on. Despite averaging nearly 23 points per game, Russell's style wasn't conducive to Golden State's high-octane system. On most possessions, the ball-dominant guard played between 3-point lines, often killing fastbreak opportunities Golden State historically covets. Worse, he was among the league's poorest defenders.

By contrast, Wiggins has the attributes Golden State covets: A tall wing with the athleticism that can coexist alongside Thompson and Curry.

"We've always liked to play fast here, we've always liked to throw the ball ahead," Kerr said. "The first thing we're going to ask of him to run the wing and run it hard. I think that will be something that he'll enjoy."

Wiggins isn't without caution. According to Basketball-Reference, he has the worst defensive rating in the site's database among players who have played at least 15,000 minutes. Along the way, Wiggins' play garnered questions about his effort. 

To change his reputation, the Warriors intend to make Wiggins its biggest project. Plans to pair Wiggins with Stephen Curry in post-practice shooting drills have already been made, bringing the hope that an address change can be beneficial for both sides. 

"Players frequently need a change of scenery for one reason or another and this potentially could be a positive change for Andrew," Kerr said. "But that's our job to make sure that happens and it's our player's job to help him along." 

Reclamation projects have already appeared for Golden State this season. After signing near minimum deals last summer, Glenn Robinson and Alec Burks became prominent pieces for a battered team, upping their value enough to earn a trade to the playoff-bound 76ers. 

"If you bring somebody into that, you hope they can be the better version of themselves." Warriors general manager Bob Myers said Friday. "If our environment can't make somebody better then we're doing something wrong. Then our environment and our coaching staff and me and what we provide isn't worth that much." 

Golden State's current stance is much different than the one it declared in July. Following the deal, Myers said Russell was in the team's long-term plans. Even as the Timberwolves continued to inquire of his availability, the team stayed put. 

"I don't think you pay anybody $120 million with the immediate idea of 'We don't like him,' " Myers said. "But you do, like any player, have to be open to anything. But the immediate thought was not to do this to trade him."

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But with the deadline approaching, the Warriors decided what they seemingly knew all along: Russell's time on the West Coast was a means to an end. 

 

"None of this went according to plan and I feel bad for D'Angelo that that was the case," Kerr said. "I wanted him to at least feel what it's like to play with our group and to play with Steph and how it all played out. And in the end, six month's time, it was time to recognize that a different path made more sense."