The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a weird spot with D'Angelo Russell. The former No. 2 overall draft pick is in the midst of the final year of his max contract. There have been no extension talks between Russell and the Wolves because he isn't quite good enough to make that a priority. Russell's counting stats are adequate for his role as the primary point guard; he's averaging 17 points and six assists in 32 minutes per game. But he is a net negative on the court with a -1.2 plus/minus so far this season, mostly due to his utter lack of defense and tendency to completely check out mentally when things aren't going well.
But the Wolves do not have the cap space to replace Russell if he walks in free agency. What are they to do if Russell isn't good enough to keep around but literally irreplaceable in terms of what the team can afford? They try to trade him, as explained by Shams Charania in today's trade deadline intel report from The Athletic.
The Timberwolves have a major decision to make with D’Angelo Russell, who is on an expiring $31.3 million contract with no signs of an extension. The team would lose his salary slot if he leaves as a free agent, so Minnesota has been exploring trade possibilities for Russell while prioritizing another point guard, sources said.
Minnesota would be wise to use Russell to recoup some draft assets after selling the farm for Rudy Gobert but nobody is going to give them all that much. Russell is a fine player, a spark plug off the bench who can start in a pinch. He is not worth his salary right now. But there will be someone out there who believes they can fix Russell's deficiencies to the point where he's a viable starter and hope they can sign him to a chea deal after the year.
Who could emerge as a trade partner for Russell? Let's look at some options.
The Mavericks need a quality creator badly to take the load off Luka Doncic. As good as the superstar is, he cannot do it all himself for an entire season and hope to make a deep playoff run, which is all that matters. Getting Russell is a good stopgap option for this season. He isn't a one-to-one replacement for Jalen Brunson by any means but can run the offense while creating for both himself and others to a level that most other Mavericks struggle. If Dallas is willing to throw in a first-round pick (which they probably shouldn't but they definitely might) then a deal with Davis Bertans and Christian Wood makes sense. The Mavs seem very iffy on whether they want to keep Wood around despite his high counting stats and Bertans is a useful contract match. Not a perfect deal but one that shakes things up for both teams.
The Suns are floundering and find themselves in need of legitimate scoring punch as Devin Booker and Chris Paul miss time with injuries. A deal for Russell is doable to fix that problem. Sending out Cameron Payne, Dario Saric, and Jae Crowder for Russell is a deal that helps both sides. The Suns finally ditch Crowder and get Russell to bolster backcourt productivity. The Wolves get a replacement point guard and some forward depth without taking on any significant long-term money. As close to a win-win as you'll find.
If the Pacers decide this is their year to push in all the chips and make a playoff push, a deal for Russell would make sense. Indiana can pretty easily match his salary by putting Buddy Hield and T.J. McConnell on the table. The Wolves would love that package; they get their replacement point guard and some shooting to help with their spacing, which they desperately need. Indy gets firepower off the bench that McConnell simply cannot provide and take a chance that Russell's presence will give them the extra juice they need to move out of the play-in and into the top six of the postseason bracket. A pretty risky move but the Pacers do not like to tank so it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see them do something like this.