The future of D’Angelo Russell has become the biggest question at the NBA’s trade deadline. But before Russell can be dealt, other dominoes will need to fall. The Wolves are in hot pursuit of Russell and are searching for assets to put together an offer that is acceptable to the Warriors. Recently, a three-way deal was discussed that would have sent Robert Covington to Houston, Clint Capela to Atlanta, and Brooklyn’s 2020 first-round pick from Atlanta to Minnesota, according to multiple league sources. But Golden State declined Minnesota’s offer—which included the Brooklyn first and its own first-round pick in 2020—and the three-way talks were put on pause.
All season long, league sources have said the Warriors want to see how Russell plays alongside Steph Curry, when the two-time MVP returns sometime in March, before making any dramatic changes. Golden State’s high demands for Russell are the reason Minnesota is asking so much for Covington. It’s been widely reported that the Timberwolves want two first-round picks for Covington, though league sources say they’ve also looked for packages including one first and a young player—they asked for Matisse Thybulle and a first from the Sixers, according to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. They won’t get that much, but league sources still expect the Timberwolves to get something for Covington. Whether they keep that asset or flip it for Russell remains to be seen. But there’s a deal to be made for Russell if the Wolves can come up with enough assets and don’t protect their own first-round pick.
Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Denver are interested in Covington, sources say. Dallas and Denver have minimal interest, which puts Houston and Philadelphia in pole position for one of the league’s most reputable 3-and-D wings. Covington isn’t moving as nimbly on defense as he has in past seasons following knee surgery last April, but he’s still a solid, reliable defender who could help a playoff team and shoot at an above-average clip from 3, which explains Houston’s interest.
Acquiring Covington isn’t simple for the Rockets; they’d need to find a third team for Capela. Atlanta, Boston, and Brooklyn are among the teams that Houston has approached for the center. League sources say the Rockets offered Capela to the Nets for a package that included Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, which Brooklyn declined. The Celtics have a top-six-protected first from the Grizzlies that will become unprotected next year that they could dangle in a trade—but considering Memphis is currently eighth in the West, that pick is likely to convey this season—as well as rookie wing Romeo Langford. The Hawks remain the most likely destination for Capela, which would lead to a whole different set of possibilities.
If the Hawks land Capela, it means they probably will have found a new home for John Collins. Though Collins has had success as a pick-and-roll partner with point guard Trae Young, he’s expected to demand well over $20 million annually, either in an extension this summer or if he hits restricted free agency next summer. Atlanta doesn’t want to invest that type of money in Collins, considering his defensive limitations. The Hawks would prefer a cheaper alternative—such as Capela, or Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson, according to sources—and invest any savings in another ball handler who complements Young.
Houston would need a new center if Capela is moved, which could come in a three-way deal involving Atlanta, Boston, or another team, or in a separate deal involving a team like Utah for Ed Davis or Phoenix for Aron Baynes. One name to watch on the buyout market is Ian Mahinmi, who could become available, though Houston’s interest is unclear. No matter the next move, trading Capela would signal an intent to heavily focus on smaller lineups.
All these theoretical trades hinge on Minnesota’s mission to land Russell. The Timberwolves hope to make a deal now: If the Warriors choose to hold until the summer, more suitors for Russell could emerge, driving the price out of Minnesota’s range. Let’s not underrate how good Russell is: He’s a 23-year-old guard averaging 24 points while shooting 38 percent from 3 on 10 attempts per game. Those numbers are obscene. The only other guards who have averaged over 23 points and nine 3-point attempts over a full season are Curry and James Harden; Young, Luka Doncic, and Damian Lillard are also doing it this season. Russell, Curry, and Lillard are the only players shooting over 37 percent from 3 in those seasons, putting Russell in rare company.
The Warriors might stink but Russell has been even better than he was with the Nets during his first All-Star campaign. Russell earned a reputation as a dominant ball handler but the Warriors have unleashed the off-ball skills that had been hibernating since he was a freshman at Ohio State. So far this season, Russell has made 95 3-pointers in the half-court, according to Synergy Sports; 21 have come via screens, 20 via spot-ups, and 12 via dribble handoffs, a greater variety than last season, when the majority came via pick-and-roll and isolations. When Curry and Klay Thompson return, isn’t that precisely the type of player the Warriors would want?
Russell looks like a player who can fill the void left by Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Maybe he isn’t good enough defensively to perfectly fill their shoes, but it’s hard to imagine the Warriors being able to acquire a player who fits better. Considering Russell’s age, production, and contract—he’s signed through the 2022-23 season—his value may only grow if he stays healthy and continues to produce. You can understand why the Warriors would want to keep him and see what happens next season when the team is at full strength.
The reasons Golden State prefers to be patient are the same reasons Minnesota wants him so badly. Russell could form a dream partnership with Karl-Anthony Towns—a pick-and-roll playmaker who can score and pass. In the past, Towns has played with scorers like Derrick Rose and passers like Ricky Rubio, but never a player with the combo that Russell brings to the floor. The fact Russell is young—and that they’re friends off the court—only adds to the appeal.
Russell’s name won’t go away in trade talks any time soon. The Knicks are also in pursuit of him, as The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski reported. Even more suitors could emerge, should the Warriors decide to wait. Minnesota also needs to be sure there’s actually a landing spot for Covington; suitors are limited, and the Rockets could always cut out the Wolves and make a deal with just Atlanta—league sources say the Rockets and Hawks are talking without Minnesota’s involvement.
A lot could happen between now and 3 p.m. ET on Thursday. The discussions happening now could be a prelude to even bigger moves this summer—or they could wind up leading to multiple big trades at the deadline.