Why the Minnesota Timberwolves Had to Trade D’Angelo Russell

Feb 3, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell (0) reacts with referee J.T. Orr (72) during the first quarter against the Orlando Magic at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It happened… D’Angelo Russell is no longer a Timberwolf. In a three-team deal that sent him to Los Angeles, Minnesota brought in veteran Mike Conley and former Wolves draft target Nickeil Alexander-Walker to go along with three second-round picks. It’s tempting to look at this trade as a one-for-one Russell for Conley swap… it’s not. At least, there were several motivations that prompted Tim Connelly to make the deal.

Russell was never going to be “the guy” in Minnesota. The balance between star power and fit is tricky to accomplish, but Connelly showed what we all know: Anthony Edwards is the [Ant] man for this team. His growth will be a determining factor in how far this team goes, but he needs the right players around him. Russell and Edwards sharing the floor for extended periods of time is just plain unnecessary. Whether you’re a fan of the “too many mouths to feed” or “too many cooks in the kitchen” phrase, it doesn’t make sense to keep them on the same team.

Here’s why netting Conley and moving Russell had to happen.

Why the Minnesota Timberwolves Had to Trade D’Angelo Russell

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Russell is a good player, and he’ll continue to be one for the Lakers. Conley is a good player too. In fact, depending on your taste in analytics, he’s a significantly better player than Russell.

Conley facilitates offense like a true point guard. No forced shots, no forced passes, no nonsense. He lives off of making his teammates better. His handles, vision, and feel for the game have yet to dissipate in the 35-year-old, and it’s unlikely those skills ever will (his athleticism, on the other hand, may be soon stripped from him). Put that next to burly Edwards, sharpshooting Karl-Anthony Towns, and dunk-dependent Rudy Gobert, and suddenly the best of their playstyles emerges.

Still want to give Edwards his iso-style possessions? No problem. Conley’s a proven shooter off the catch.

Defensively he runs laps around Russell. He’s still sneaky enough to navigate ball screens at an acceptable level.

His headshot is right at (1, 1), while D’Angelo Russell can be found hidden next to Jaylen Nowell at (-1, 0.5). Not only has Conley been assigned tougher matchups than Russell, but he’s done a better job staying with his man or dictating angles and the movement of his man.

Box scores are limited representations of how good a player is, but comparing Russell’s three core stats to Conley’s isn’t fair to either of them. Conley is a better fit for this year’s and next year’s Wolf’s team.

Money Makes the NBA World Go Round

Regardless of the fit and skill of these two players, the main factors in the trade are green and keen. Dane Moore does a better job of describing this reason, but here’s a summary:

Russell would have most likely walked in free agency this summer. He’s getting paid in the 30 millions, while Conley is in the 20 millions. Upcoming extensions for Edwards and rising star Jaden McDaniels would necessitate a Russell pay cut, which he may not be in agreeance with. Conley will still be under contract next season, and his salary would still be tradeable. Rather than getting nothing in return (and going along with the “Conley is a better fit” argument), the Wolves will improve this season while keeping that improvement for next season AND having the money flexibility to bring back two fan favorites.

Thanks for the breakdown, Dane!

It’s NAW-t Just Conley

Nickeil Alexander-Walker isn’t a throw-in player. He’s had an impressive season so far, albeit in limited minutes. He’s another capable defender who may have some untapped potential as a shooter. He could compete for minutes with Nowell and Austin Rivers. They’re enough to fulfill different roles for Chris Finch, whomever he calls upon.