This is interesting.
It’s more interesting than anyone believed it could be — certainly more than I believed it could be. We all lined up to tell you how few options the Warriors had, how little they could do beyond hope that guys like Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins would re-sign, and Bob Myers politely requested that we hold his beverage.
Not only did he turn Kevin Durant’s departure into a sign-and-trade deal netting D’Angelo Russell, he unloaded Andre Iguodala and retained Kevon Looney. The result is a roster nobody ever thought they would see, complete with more intrigue and unknowns than these Warriors have seen at any time in the last five years.
Before we dive into that, though, there’s the matter of Kevin Durant. He left, as many expected he would, and will resume his career at some point in the next season or two as a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob’s goodbye message included a promise that no player will wear KD’s No. 35 as long as he is around, an honor befitting a player who was as big a contributor as any to three of the best years in the organization’s history. We should all be so thankful for the privilege of watching one of the greatest teams of all time.
There’s no definitive statement on what made Durant choose the Nets, but the circumstances surrounding that choice paint a pretty clear picture. When he left Oklahoma City, he talked about personal and professional growth — he came to the Bay to win titles and play the most beautiful brand of basketball around.
He succeeded. He won titles and Finals MVPs. He proved everything he had to prove, punctuating his prowess with three-point daggers in the face of LeBron James. Now he wants something else.
That something else crystallized with the DeAndre Jordan piece of the Nets deal — we have heard all year about Durant’s friendship with Kyrie Irving, but we’ve known about his relationship with DJ for even longer than that. It seems apparent that after a frustrating season and a crushing injury, Kevin Durant wanted to go hoop with his friends.
It doesn’t mean he hates Draymond Green, or that he was betrayed by the Warriors’ medical staff, just that he wanted to do this other thing. As other things go, playing basketball with one’s real friends makes a ton of sense to me — it’s one of my favorite things to do.
Now the Warriors move forward with a titillating two-and-maybe-eventually-three-guard combo. There’s absolutely no doubt that opening night at Chase Center got a lot more interesting with the D’Angelo Russell addition.
For those unfamiliar, Russell is a just-turned-23 combo guard who was picked second overall in 2015 and is coming off of his best season. He shot career-high percentages last year (36.9% from three, 48.2 from two) and also dished out a career-best seven assists (nearly two more than 2017-18 and without adding any turnovers).
Maybe most importantly, two years in Brooklyn did significant work to rehab an image that was gutter-adjacent after Magic Johnson traded him away from the Lakers and lambasted his leadership abilities. It doesn’t hurt that Johnson’s own reputation has taken a significant hit in that time.
Pairing Russell with Curry gives the Warriors a backcourt with real firepower (albeit not Splash Brother firepower) and creates some excitement heading into the new building. Whatever the Warriors would have been in our previous understanding of Life After Kevin, adding Russell to that is a boon.
It’s fair, though, to question both the cost and the fit — to acquire Russell, the Warriors had to give up two future first-round draft picks, jettison Iguodala and likely say goodbye to virtually everyone from last year’s bench. They did, thankfully, retain Kevon Looney at what seems like a hometown discount (three years, $15 million).
It might be tough to make a three-guard lineup featuring Curry, Russell and Klay Thompson work once the latter is recovered from knee surgery. Certainly there are defensive issues in the backcourt, and asking Klay to routinely play the three could be an extra physical tax on him.
That really doesn’t matter, though. In Russell, the Warriors have a significant and appealing asset — perhaps they intend to trade him again in as soon as they are allowed (December, for the record), or maybe they want to see the three-guard lineup in today’s small-friendly NBA. Either way, he represents options they would not have had if Durant had simply left as a free agent.
At this point, the Warriors will have to fill their roster out with veterans on minimum deals, and it’s hard to know who that will be. When 33-year-old George Hill gets $29 million over three years, what kind of player takes $1.7 million?
The good news is that a lot of the recently-available money around the league has been spent. Anyone left standing now in this notably active game of musical chairs may just plop into the first seat that comes their way.
For now, the probable roster for game one includes: Curry, Russell, Green, Looney, Damian Jones, Jacob Evans, Alfonso McKinnie and the three rookies (Jordan Poole, Alan Smailagic and Eric Paschall). That’s already ten guys, eleven if you count the injured Klay Thompson, and while the lack of small forward depth is moderately alarming, it’s a reasonable group.
The acquisition of Russell makes it a lot easier to see the scenario where the Warriors hover a few games over .500 through December (the earliest Thompson can return with his 5-7 month recovery prognosis), get Thompson back and make a very guard-heavy run in the playoffs. With their own run of dominance over and the Lakers yet to field a full squad around their big names, the West looks much closer to a toss-up.
Of course it’s just as possible that the Warriors move Russell for pieces before Thompson’s return, and we never see the three-guard lineup. The presumptive-champion life Warriors fans have been living has been replaced by a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
Now this is interesting.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, 3p-7p every weekday evening alongside Damon Bruce and Ray Ratto. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.