When D’Angelo Russell signed with the Warriors over the summer it was quite a surprise for many fans around the NBA. Here was a budding star for the Nets, pretty much forced out of town by the arrival of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, choosing to join an already surefire contender over a place that he could be a face such as Minnesota. The young star chose the Warriors largely because they were able to offer him a max contract, thanks to a sign and trade with Durant while also sending Andre Iguodala to Memphis.
But what if free agency had played out differently? The Warriors wouldn’t have been able to offer Russell that max contract if Durant had chosen a different location other than Brooklyn, so where would he have landed. Common thought is he would have ended up with the Timberwolves. He took a meeting with them and they made a strong push to sign Russell before he decided on Golden State. However, one other team could have made a run at Russell if he had decided to be a little patient.
According to Anthony Slater of The Athletic, the Lakers of all teams had offered Russell a $100 million deal for a potential reunion, but terms couldn’t be agreed upon until Kawhi Leonard made a decision. Russell didn’t want to wait on Kawhi, and it also probably doesn’t feel great to be considered plan B, so he made his move to Golden State.
Russell spent June 30, the day free agency opened, in Los Angeles, where his agency is located. The market moved at warp speed. Before the bidding had officially opened, Irving and Durant had already given their pledge to Brooklyn. That took a return to the Nets off the table for Russell.
Russell only wanted serious bidders and, sources say, he had three: The Lakers — wouldn’t that have been quite the reunion? — nearing a potential $100 million offer but in limbo until Kawhi Leonard made his choice, the Wolves, up over $100 million but still needing to create cap room to get to his max, and the Warriors, offering the full max in a complicated sign-and-trade involving Durant.
We have no idea if Russell would have actually gone back to the Lakers, because Leonard waited until July 6, and it doesn’t make sense for him to wait that long on a maybe. Teams move fast in free agency and he had to make his decision quickly, but for the sake of a hypothetical let’s say Leonard had made a decision on June 30. Would Russell actually want to go back to Los Angeles?
It definitely doesn’t feel as insane as it will initially sound. The exit from L.A. was awkward with the phone recording incident and Magic Johnson kicking Russell on the way out by saying he’s not a leader. However, Johnson was no longer in L.A. when the offer was made, and Byron Scott and Luke Walton were no longer coaching. Most of the roster had been turned over. Russell would have been returning to an entirely different team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the way. Even now, with the Lakers lack of depth at point guard, it looks like a pairing that could have worked.
Of course, this is all a hypothetical, because the Wolves were still in play for Russell themselves. In this hypothetical world where the Lakers are racing Minnesota for Russell, the Wolves have the advantage of him being a star on a young team with players that he’s friends with. On top of that, Minnesota has no awkward prior history with Russell. It still seems most likely that if Russell hadn’t ended up in the Bay Area then he would have gone to Minnesota, but it’s certainly fun to think about a weird reunion of him being back on the team who drafted him making star money.