As the NBA Finals rage on, rumors are swirling off the court surrounding some of the biggest names in the league. Damian Lillard’s future with the Portland Trail Blazers seems murky. Ben Simmons has likely played his last game in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform. And Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard are set to opt out and become free agents at season’s end.
The potential for offseason chaos is good for the Minnesota Timberwolves for a few reasons. It means there will be tons of opportunities to get in on trade talks for star players to improve their roster without a draft pick. Unfortunately, without a war chest of assets to give away, it means it will cost Gerson Rosas dearly to pry a star away from his current team.
Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns are as good as untouchable unless guys like Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo ask for a trade out of thin air. Don’t even mention trading Jaden McDaniels if you don’t want Wolves fans to freak out. Jarrett Culver has the trade value of a chicken nugget. And Ricky Rubio is fresh off his worst season in years. That leaves D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Naz Reid, and Josh Okogie as the four core players with any real trade value, and just Russell has the pedigree to land a big fish in Minnesota.
So what is Russell’s trade value and should the Wolves look to part ways with him in a blockbuster trade?
DLo has had a rocky stint with Minnesota, to say the least. Since getting traded from Golden State in February 2020 for Andrew Wiggins and the seventh-overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Russell has featured in just 54 games due to various injuries. When he was on the court, Russell produced a mixed bag of results. Sometimes he was spectacular, but he often launched contested, off-balance shots instead of getting others involved. The former No. 2-overall pick is averaging 19.6 points, six assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game with a 42.6/37.6/79.4 shooting split since arriving in Minnesota.
Things began to look up this season for the one-time All-Star after returning from a 26-game hiatus due to a knee injury. In his last 22 games, Russell fit beautifully alongside his old pal Towns as well as Edwards on their way to an 11-11 record to finish the season. The trio outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions during that span, showing that perhaps he could return to his Brooklyn Nets form, leading a ragtag group of misfits to the playoffs in 2019.
Realistically, Russell’s trade value is somewhere between a low-level All-Star and an elite role player. Russell will make nearly $62 million over the next two seasons, which might scare off some GMs. Furthermore, they might question why the Los Angeles Lakers, Nets, Golden State Warriors, and lowly Timberwolves all gave up on him before his 26th birthday.
Ben Simmons is the name on everyone’s lips right now. The former first-overall pick absolutely tanked his trade value with a disastrous showing in the second round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. Kendall Jenner’s ex-boyfriend averaged 9.9 points per game and refused to shoot in the fourth quarter during the seven-game series. His fear of the free-throw line became the lead story on sports talk shows, and Sixers fans seemingly no longer trust the process.
Philadelphia has reportedly opened trade discussion around the three-time All-Star, but they have already reportedly turned the Indiana Pacers’ offer of Malcolm Brogdon and a first-round pick. Even though Brogdon is three years older than Russell, he is probably valued slightly higher than Russell at this point in their careers. Any hope of a Simmons for Russell straight-up deal is probably dashed.
More pertinently, Russell may not even be available. According to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski, Russell is “viewed as part of the core and (they) want to keep it that way.” It makes sense. Landing Russell is Rosas’ big move to date, and a core Russell and Towns (25), Beasley (24), McDaniels (20), and Edwards (19) could morph into a legitimate contender in the not-so-distant future.
So should the Wolves even consider offering Russell in a potential blockbuster trade? The easy answer is it depends on who they get in return. If James Jones wants to get nuts and offer Devin Booker for DLo, of course the Wolves shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. But being realistic, the names that will be in trade conversations are the aforementioned Simmons, John Collins, Kristaps Porzingis, and Collin Sexton. In each case, I think most Wolves fans would rather have a full healthy season of Russell than any of those players in return. Russell is still young and can be a lead ball-handler. He’s shown flashes of potential stardom, and It would be risky to punt on his potential after just 54 games. Not to mention how trading one of his best friends would affect KAT’s relationship with the team.
As tantalizing as the offseason potentially could be for the Timberwolves, it might be the best move to stand pat and see what Russell has left in his bag of tricks. At some point, the Wolves will need to cultivate some roster continuity, and this might be the group to keep together for the next few years.