We have a rumor!
The legitimacy of said rumor, which comes to us from ‘Prime Time Sports Talk,’ is unclear. But let’s run with it, anyways: If the Bulls were to try and swing a trade for Warriors lead guard D’Angelo Russell, what might a deal look like?
Russell’s availability has been widely speculated since the day he inked his current four-year, $117 million contract with the Warriors last summer. The prevailing thought has always been that, while Russell would be a fun fit next to Steph Curry for either a half or full season, when Klay Thompson returns, it might wise of the Dubs to find a different way of allocating the $29.3 million Russell pulls in annually (on average). Russell, after all, had a number of suitors in the offseason, is just 23 years old and the Warriors’ roster projects as imbalanced for next year, one in which they hope to return to contention.
Obviously, that Curry-Russell pairing hasn’t exactly panned out. Curry broke his left hand back in October and hasn’t played since — he and Russell have shared the court for a combined 74 minutes this season, and the Warriors are in the cellar of the league at 11-39.
Still, Russell’s numbers align with or exceed those he posted last season, one in which he made the Eastern Conference All-Star team and led an upstart Nets squad to the playoffs. In 32 games played in 2019-20, Russell is averaging 23.8 points and 6.3 assists on 43.3-38.3-78 shooting splits. He has a 52-point outing to his name, as well:
With the deadline fast approaching, teams around the league — old and new — are beginning to buzz. Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Warriors and Timberwolves (who hotly pursued Russell in the summer) are actively engaged in trade discussions, with the Knicks showing interest, as well. Russell being suddenly downgraded to out for the Warriors’ Monday night matchup with the Wizards only fanned those speculatory flames further.
But could the Bulls throw their hat in the ring? Anything is possible, and upon close examination, constructing a deal between them and Golden State isn’t the most unrealistic prospect (no pun intended).
The first hurdle to clear for the Bulls would be matching Russell’s $27.3 million salary this season. And that’s actually simple enough to do. If (big if) the Warriors were willing to take on Otto Porter Jr.’s $27.3 million salary this year, and $28.5 million player option for 2020-21, it would represent an easy starting point for a negotiation.
From a value perspective, though, Porter alone won’t get a deal done. He’s been good in the time he’s been on the floor with the Bulls and theoretically projects as a ‘3-and-D’ type wing the Warriors would covet the chance to run alongside Curry and Thompson. But his nine games played this season are undoubtedly a red flag, especially given the Warriors' own troubles with injuries.
To sweeten the pot (and outbid others jockeying for leverage), the Bulls would likely have to part with at least one piece of their young core, and potentially a draft pick.
The first name that springs to mind here is Coby White, as his development would likely be impeded by a long-term backcourt pairing of Russell and Zach LaVine. But the Warriors — who already employ the two greatest shooters of all time — might be looking for something different than a score-first guard off the bench.
Enter: Lauri Markkanen. He’s battled injuries and otherwise regressed in his third season, but he still could be sellable as an agile, sharp-shooting big with the potential to flourish surrounded by elite-level playmakers in Golden State. Per TradeNBA’s trade machine, a construction centered around Porter and Markkanen for Russell and Kevon Looney (whose contract the Warriors probably wouldn’t mind getting out from under) works for both sides:
Imagine a starting unit of Curry, Thompson, Porter and Markkanen, with Draymond Green as the functional center. If all were healthy and found their footing in their respective roles, that’s a tantalizing proposition.
If I’m the Warriors, I probably ask for Wendell Carter Jr. instead of Markkanen, but perhaps a draft asset (say, a future first — Markkanen’s value is at an all-time low — or handful of seconds) could bridge the gap. The Bulls should be wary of parting with too much draft capital, though — they don’t have much outside of their own picks at present, and those are growing more valuable by the day.
There’s also an argument that taking on such long-term money as Russell’s (three years, $90 million after this season) could be reckless for a Bulls team without definitive direction. And, of course, there would be questions about ball-sharing and defense with a LaVine-Russell backcourt.
But there is something irresistible about the playmaking potential of those two, and acquiring Russell could put a jolt into a Bulls team mired in a lackluster season. It also gets them out of the pickle of deciding on a Markkanen extension this offseason and out from under the last year of Porter's max deal.
At the same time, the Timberwolves — if hell-bent enough — could probably top any realistic Bulls offer with some combination of Robert Covington and draft picks. Or the Warriors could wait to package Russell with their inevitable top-five draft pick for something juicier in the offseason. It all comes down to how much teams value the Bulls’ assets. The way this season has gone, outside assessments aren't likely to be favorable.
Still, ’tis the season for speculation. In about 72 hours, some of our questions might be answered, but more are likely to pop up in the process.
Editors note: All salary figures via Spotrac.
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