It’s been a while since the Warriors had a trade deadline like Thursday.
By the end of the day they had five draft picks in their pocket, but they also parted with what was perceived as their biggest trade chip—D’Angelo Russell.
After months of speculation and days of dancing, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally got their man when the Warriors sent Russell, along with Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota’s 2021 top-3 protected first round pick and 2021 second rounder.
On the surface this is a far cry from the return many expected for the Warriors 23-year-old point guard.
The 25-year-old Wiggins is nowhere near the caliber of those players. He’s a flawed player in the middle of an albatross of a contract with three years and $94 million left.
So why would the Warriors take this deal now?
First of all, it gets them below the luxury tax for this season since they sent out both Evans and Spellman. That’s a big deal since it wipes the slate clean for the repeater tax and the Warriors will once again have a gigantic payroll next year.
But it could also be that Russell’s value around the league is nowhere close to what they thought it would be. That, combined with a high pick in one of the weakest drafts in years, may not have looked appealing to any teams.
Now they are armed with what could be just as high of a pick in a much stronger 2021 class, along with their own in 2020. That combination could be more attractive to teams as multiple lottery picks always whet the appetite of teams.
Wiggins has been bad for years, though he’s also been in an unstable and losing situation in Minnesota, so this is the ultimate culture test for the Warriors.
Plus, if they ever do make a play for a star, they’ll need Wiggins bloated salary to match. It wouldn’t hurt if he could rehabilitate his game as well. He’s an easy punching bag for NBA Twitter with his contested midrange jumpers and apathetic attitude towards anything other than scoring.
But he’s actually been playing much better this season. He’s cut out a lot of his long two’s and replaced them with 3’s, shooting more than six of them a game, easily the most of his career. And he’s also averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, and blocks, showing a more willingness to do the other things on the court.
The Warriors are willing to bet their locker room leaders will motivate him to do even more, and that their offensive system, which will ask less of him will put him in better positions to use his elite athleticism.
There are also no questions of fit when Curry and Thompson come back.
It was always going to be complicated to incorporate the three-guard lineup with Russell into a winning combination, and the three and a half games that we saw them together didn’t inspire much confidence.
But that’s all gone now. There are no questions as to how Wiggins will fit in with this group. With this trade they essentially reset the team to their identity before Kevin Durant, just with Wiggins in the place of Harrison Barnes, just with a higher ceiling.
With the Timberwolves he was used as their go-to scorer with isolations and pick-and-rolls. The problem was that he sucked at that.
Instead the Warriors will put him in space, and let him attack closeouts off the catch, and use his good cutting instincts to get easy looks.
And really that’s the perfect role for Wiggins, with room to grow into something better if he buys in.
That’s a big “if” though, and one the Warriors just made a huge bet on, for someone who before this year, had seemed allergic to improvement.
Their roster is stripped bare, with only Curry, Thompson, Green and Wiggins as not just their core, but the only sure-fire rotational players on the team. And they will make a combined $122 million next year.
And with all that being said, this may have been the best the team could have done.
If the team prioritized getting out of the luxury tax, then they couldn’t wait either.
We’ll just have to wait and see if this big bet gets paid out, or if the Warriors just went bankrupt.
The Warriors worked to complete deals to replenish their depleted roster after their flurry of moves. They signed Ky Bowman to a multi-year extension, and also signed Santa Cruz Warrior and East Bay native Juan Toscano-Anderson for the rest of the season. Then they signed free agent Zach Norvell to a 10-day contract.