D’Angelo Russell, no stranger to trades, once again finds himself in fluid situation

Before the Timberwolves dove headfirst into a supersized frontcourt starring Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota evaluated ways to bolster the opposite end of its starting lineup. The Timberolves explored the offseason trade market of point guards, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and particularly Dejounte Murray.

Another one-time All-Star ball-handler, D’Angelo Russell, has held Minnesota’s starting role ever since the Timberwolves sent Andrew Wiggins plus the first-round pick that became Jonathan Kuminga to Golden State in a package for Russell at the 2020 trade deadline. A 2019 sign-and-trade first delivered Russell to the Warriors from the Nets, following a 2018 deal that shipped Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers to Brooklyn.

He is no stranger to the trade chatter that’s preceding this year’s Feb. 9 deadline. Word among league personnel of the Wolves’ openness to moving Russell has only persisted since this summer’s Murray flirtations. Russell is in the final season of a four-year, $117 million agreement, and there was little progress for any contract extension with the Timberwolves this past offseason, sources said, making him a natural trade candidate this winter.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 04: D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts to a call on the floor in the third quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Target Center on January 4, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Timberwolves defeated the Trail Blazers 113-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
The Timberwolves have much to decide about D'Angelo Russell. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Minnesota would be wise to move Russell now if the team doesn’t intend to re-sign him via Bird rights at season’s end. Free agents have individual cap holds, or salary placeholders, to set the upper limit of what their incumbent teams can re-sign that player for. But if Russell were to walk on the open market, Minnesota would not inherit his $31.3 million salary in open cap space. There are avenues, in that event, for the Wolves to clear upward of $21 million in room, but the scenario of Russell exiting the franchise in free agency would leave Minnesota with far less financial flexibility than if the Wolves returned a package commensurate with Russell’s salary prior to the deadline.

Russell is certainly paying attention to the rumor mill. “Yeah, it’s my life,” the seven-year veteran told Yahoo Sports. “That’s it. Just be conscious of it.” He ruffled internet feathers by apparently unfollowing the Timberwolves on Jan. 4, the same day HoopsHype detailed a popular idea that’s been floated by league executives: swapping Russell to another team performing below preseason expectations, the Miami Heat, for aging floor general Kyle Lowry.

Russell has certainly felt spurned by the NBA’s transaction tumult in the past. Following the 2018-19 season, in which he became an All-Star with Brooklyn, the guard noticeably wore Ohio State gear to Nets facilities during spring workouts after he’d learned of Brooklyn’s impending pursuit of Kyrie Irving that summer, even sharing sentiments of betrayal to Nets coaches.

“You either take advantage of me and my ability, or f*** up the opportunity with me,” Russell told Yahoo Sports in December. “It’s as simple as that.”

As part of a response to how he is currently helping push fellow Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, Russell said: “I’m an Alpha as well, you know what I mean? And I feel like I’m better than a lot of shooting guards and I’m better than a lot of point guards.”

The Heat have in fact registered interest in Russell, source told Yahoo Sports, but a direct deal for Lowry would appear unlikely. Lowry is just a few months away from entering the final season of his own contract worth roughly $30 million in average annual salary, and it’s hard to imagine Wolves officials being eager to extend the aging guard another exorbitant payday when he becomes extension eligible this summer — putting Minnesota in the exact situation it faced with Russell last July.

In general, there is little market around the league for point guards making that range of salary. League executives are monitoring the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns as teams in search of backcourt improvements before the deadline. The Suns were linked to Russell in 2019, and the point guard is known to have a close relationship with Phoenix All-Star scorer Devin Booker.

But Russell also represents Minnesota’s most dynamic playmaker on the perimeter, while Edwards continues to mature as a decision-maker with the ball in his hands and especially as Towns remains sidelined with a calf injury. The Wolves won’t simply move Russell to move him.

Minnesota’s north star still resides in playoff contention with this wonky roster construction.