From: Las Vegas
Regrading the Warriors and Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins/D’Angelo Russell trade
Part 1: Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans salary dump
This is the easiest to grade in retrospect because it was the simplest to grade at the time. To complete the deal, the Warriors attached Evans and Spellman, two projected non-rotation players who had an extra season left on their current deals.
This served two purposes for the Warriors. It ducked them under the luxury tax last season, which allowed them to avoid the more punitive repeater tax this season. That minor maneuver either saved Joe Lacob and the ownership group a whole bunch of money or limited the upcoming tax damage enough to make the Kelly Oubre Jr. addition more palatable. You think the tax bill is big now? Imagine if they were a repeater.
The non-financial part of the Spellman and Evans dump aided roster construction. Spellman and Evans weren’t part of the Warriors’ future plans. Hitching them to the Russell wagon freed up two important roster spots this season. The Wolves would later attach a second-round pick to them and send both to the Knicks. New York cut Evans before this season and Spellman earlier this month.
Part 2: The Russell-for-Wiggins swap
The Wolves were hot after Russell since 2019 free agency. That’s known. He agreed to a max deal with the Warriors just before he boarded a helicopter with Minnesota’s decision-makers. Their hearts were broken on the tarmac, but their eyes never wandered.
What’s clear in retrospect: The Warriors are fortunate the Wolves wouldn’t give up on their Russell dreams, very much motivated by Towns’ friendship with the point guard he preferred. If Minnesota had changed direction, there weren’t many other avenues for the Warriors to trade Russell — and the three years, $90 million remaining on his contract — for much value.
Wiggins has a near equal contract: Three years, $94.7 million remaining. Most neutral observers and opposing franchises seem to view them as about equal overpays, the decision on which one you’d want depending on what your current roster lacks more — a skilled high-usage starting point guard with defensive deficiencies or a supplemental wing who can guard better but score a bit worse?
The choice for the Warriors was easy. Wiggins fits their current roster construction — with or without Thompson — better than Russell did next to Steph Curry. They were desperate for competent wing play after Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala’s departures and Wiggins has given it to them.
Wiggins is their second-leading scorer, is shooting nearly 40 percent from 3 and is defending at a high level early this season, shouldering a bulk of the toughest nightly assignment, contesting more shots than nearly every NBA perimeter player and providing some surprising rim protection. He entered the weekend 13th in blocks, behind 12 centers. The Warriors calculated that Wiggins would fit them better on the court than Russell. They’ve been correct to this point.
Minnesota would argue the flip side for its roster. The situation with Wiggins had clearly grown stale. The Wolves wanted to pair Towns with a prime pick-and-roll partner. Russell is dynamic in the high-screen game. It’s too early to judge how productive those two could be together offensively. Because of several health issues, Russell and Towns have only appeared in five total games together since the trade, winning two.
But this fact remains: The Wolves entered the weekend with a 119.5 defensive rating in Russell’s 430 minutes. The only other 25-minute-plus-per-night player in the league with a worse defensive rating is Sacramento’s Marvin Bagley III.
So it’s fair to wonder, given that they went on to win the 2019 lottery and selected guard Anthony Edwards with the No. 1 pick, what would be a better guard-wing-big trio to build around: Russell, Edwards and Towns … or LaMelo Ball, Wiggins and Towns?
Advantage: Warriors, at least early
Part 3: The draft-pick compensation
Minnesota dealt its 2021 first- and second-round picks in the deal. The Warriors have already used that second-rounder to help facilitate the Oubre trade with Oklahoma City. If the Warriors don’t finish with a top-10 record this season — and the early expectation is they won’t — they’ll protect the first-rounder they owe the Thunder and instead will send Minnesota’s second-rounder.
So that’s already some beneficial early use of an acquired asset. But the grand prize of this entire package — the piece that 28 other franchises would covet most among the players and picks that changed homes in this trade — still sits in the Warriors’ back pocket. That top-three protected 2021 first-round pick grows in value every time the Wolves lose or another one of these potential 2021 lottery-level talents has a huge night.
Minnesota did well to get that top-three protection. That’s probably the lone criticism of the Warriors in the reassessment of this trade. Is there any way they could’ve played hardball and removed all protections? Imagine the ability to dangle this pick on the trade market with the dream of Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham attached to it.
But an overall win is a win. The Warriors made this deal presuming the Wolves would stink this season. Minnesota clearly believed differently. So far — with a whole lot of season left and an eventual Towns return dropped into the equation — it’s tilted heavily in the Warriors’ direction.