In a season that has seemed like one straight out of Bizarro World, the Warriors’ visit to Brooklyn to face the Nets Wednesday was another episode.
With D’Angelo Russell playing at the Barclays Center for the first time in a Warriors uniform, and with trade rumors swirling ahead of Thursday’s deadline, the 129-88 blowout loss was far from the main storyline.
In fact, as head coach Steve Kerr noted, Russell wasn’t even the main storyline. When the Warriors arrived at the arena, they found out that veterans Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III were likely to be traded, which they were not long after the game had gone final. The duo was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for three second-round draft picks, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
They were scratched from the starting lineup and their young teammates who they mentored through a rough season said their unexpected goodbyes.
“AB and Glenn have been two of our best players, two of our leaders, just two great pros. Those guys are rock solid every day. Can’t overstate how important that is to have mentors for younger players, guys who show the younger players how it’s meant to be done.”
Rookie Jordan Poole was one of those players. The 20-year-old said that Burks and Robinson taught him how to be a pro:
“How to come in every day, get your work done. How not to complain. Make sure you’re on top of things. Those guys are the perfect demonstration. I look at them as a role model.”
Burks and Robinson both signed with the Warriors on minimum contracts, so they had to have known that this was likely a temporary pit stop. But it doesn’t lessen the impact of their departures. They both played in 48 games and averaged double digits in around 30 minutes a game.
The Warriors rarely make midseason moves, again marking just how unique this season has been. But Willey Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks a few weeks ago, and now two other veteran leaders are gone, too.
Kevon Looney said:
“We haven’t been through that, haven’t seen that. It was pretty sad. It was tough to go out and play. Losing those two guys, we didn’t know it was going to happen.”
The toll of the moves, combined with the loss of Burks and Robinson’s on-court production, resulted in a lackluster effort. The Warriors entered the game on just their second winning streak of the season, but the Nets quickly snapped that. Golden State fell behind 15-2 early, trailed by 21 at halftime and never came close to competing, even against the shorthanded Nets.
Russell, who spent the past two seasons with the Nets (23-27), led the Warriors (12-40) with 17 points, but went 0-of-8 from 3-point range. He was a fan-favorite in Brooklyn, breaking out last year when he made the All-Star team and led the Nets to a playoff berth.
But the NBA is a business, and even success breeds ambiguity. The Nets hit the free agency jackpot by stealing Kevin Durant from the Warriors and adding Kyrie Irving to boot, kicking Russell out the door.
Russell did not get to face his replacement on Wednesday, with Irving recovering from a knee injury. But even with Irving and Durant both sidelined, all Russell had to do was glance over at the Nets bench to understand his current situation.
Nets fan showed their appreciation. He received a hearty ovation when he was introduced as a starter, and again when he scored the Warriors’ first points with his patented floater down the lane.
When he was at the free throw line later in the first quarter, a “thank you D-Lo” chant erupted from the stands. At the end of the quarter, the Nets played a video montage of Russell’s highlights, welcoming him back to Brooklyn.
It has been quite the week for Russell, and it’s only Wednesday. He has been mentioned in trade rumors all week, with the Timberwolves trying to pry him away and the Knicks reportedly interested in the point guard. Considering that the 23-year-old Russell’s skillset has become evident this season, the amount of drama and movement he has been involved in since being drafted by the Lakers as a 19-year-old is hard to imagine.
But perhaps Russell, who leads the team with a 23.8-point-per-game average, playing on Wednesday is a sign that the Warriors are keen on keeping him around.
As Kerr pointed out, though, the team was too lost in Burks and Robinson’s departures to focus on Russell’s day. It was ironic, given that Russell has been one of the marquee names in the rumor mill:
“It was really a surreal scene for us. So I think D-Lo’s return here got lost in that.”
Two big storylines — none of them about the actual blowout loss itself.
Welcome to life on the other side of the spectrum.
After a five-game road trip, the Warriors return to Chase Center to face the Lakers in primetime on Saturday.
The Warriors may see another old friend on Monday when Miami comes to town, with Andre Iguodala reportedly being dealt from the Grizzlies to the Heat late on Wednesday. Iguodala, who was integral to the Warriors’ half-decade of dominance, is sure to be honored at the game.