Bob Myers in the acquisition of D’Angelo Russell pic.twitter.com/Dwftg75qNC
— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) July 15, 2019
OAKLAND — When the Golden State Warriors acquired D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Durant, immediate speculation was that the 23-year old All-Star could be flipped for assets within a year.
Russell is far from a perfect fit for Steve Kerr’s motion-based, pass-happy offense. A pick-and-roll specialist, he was coming to a team that was last in the NBA in pick-and-rolls last season.
In his post-free agency press conference at the team’s practice facility, general manager Bob Myers was eager to see just how his addition would play out. In need of a scoring punch with Klay Thompson sidelined due to an ACL injury, acquiring Russell was a move to keep Golden State relevant after the end of their five-year run atop the Western Conference.
”We didn’t sign him with the intention of just trading him,” Myers said in what was likely the last press conference at the team’s Oakland headquarters before moving to Chase Center. “We hadn’t even see him play in our uniform yet, and a lot of people already have us trading him. That’s not how we’re viewing it. Let’s see what we have, let’s see what he is, let’s see how he fits.”
Without any salary-cap space and opening a new arena next season, Myers was able to solve Golden State’s scoring deficit left by Durant’s departure by acquiring one of the most coveted free agents on the market, and in doing so, was able to get at least something for Durant, while giving up a future protected first-round pick. If the pick lands in the 1-20 range, the Warriors would give up a 2025 second-round pick to the Nets.
“For us, the ability to get a young player, heading more into his prime, it’s very hard to do that,” Myers said. “It is difficult, and we likely — hopefully — aren’t going to be drafting high, so you have only a few certain small finite ways to get young players. This was one way to do it, so we’re going to see how it goes. See what he can bring.”
Russell was involved in more pick-and-rolls than every player in the NBA outside of Kemba Walker. His 920 pick-and-rolls last season were only 75 fewer than the entire Warriors offense. His 6.4 minutes per game with the ball in his hands contrasts sharply with Golden State’s pass-heavy offense, whose top ball handler — Curry —spent just 4.8 minutes per game with the ball in his hands. Myers expressed confidence that Russell could learn to play off the ball, rather than asking Curry to fundamentally alter how he plays.
“I know that D’Angelo, talking to him, he’s excited about playing with Steph, about the spacing that a guy like Steph and then when Klay’s back, Klay, provide,” Myers said. “I don’t know that two players in the league provide more spacing than Steph and Klay because of their ball movement and ability.”
Both Russell and Stephen Curry are sub-par defenders, and once Thompson returns, the three-guard rotation looks to be an awkward situation, but Russell is a dynamic playmaker, and Myers was keen to see just how Kerr would adjust going forward with the most inexperienced roster he’s had since the start of Golden State’s run of dominance.
With franchise fixtures Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston gone and Durant bolting for Brooklyn, the team has just four players on the roster with NBA titles to their names. Of the 14 players on the roster, all but four are 25 or younger. Instead of facing what amounts to a rebuilding year for a team that retains a two-time MVP in Curry and a former Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green, Myers gambled.
“Part of our job in the front office and the coaching staff and the organization is how does it all work,” Myers said. “But, so much of, and I don’t blame anybody — this is maybe fan-driven — but so much of our sport, at least, and maybe other sports, is, ‘What are you doing next?’ We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing now. That applies to a guy like D’Angelo in that there is speculation we’re moving him.”
The addition of center Willie Cauley-Stein on a minimum deal helps ease the transition into a more pick-and-roll-heavy offense. Myers said that, combined with the team’s youth, a tweak in playing style will make training camp all the more important. He preached patience to those declaring that Russell was simply a one-year rental.
“We haven’t even seen him play,” Myers said. “I haven’t seen a lot of our guys play. We haven’t seen him play with some of our core players and we won’t even know until Klay comes back how that fits. We’re just happy that we got a young player who has a lot of upside in our opinion, and we’re excited about the possibility of him in our uniform.”