Typically when players tamper with one another, it's done quietly enough that it only becomes known publicly after the fact. By the time anyone knew that Kawhi Leonard had spoken to Paul George about teaming up, they were both already members of the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA doesn't police player-to-player tampering, but it doesn't exactly support the practice either.
That's what makes this quote so incendiary. D'Angelo Russell told Max Resetar of SLAM Magazine that he plans to pair up with Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker at some point down the line, and as angry as it might make certain fanbases, the NBA can do nothing about it.
"We gotta do this again, when we're all on the same team," Russell jokes toward the end of the day. "Nah, don't cut it," he says to our rolling cameras. "Y'all got it on footage. When we're all on the same team—I ain't gonna tell you which team because I don't know—we're gonna do this again."
Towns and Russell had a chance to unite this offseason with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Russell was a restricted free agent whom the Timberwolves had targeted, but he chose to join the Golden State Warriors through a sign-and-trade instead. Now it will be quite some time before any of the three have a chance to play together.
Towns and Booker are under contract for five more years. Russell is under contract for four. Neither the Phoenix Suns nor the Timberwolves have the trade assets at this moment to make meaningful offers for both players, and while the Golden State Warriors probably could unite the trio by trading Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, they simply aren't going to do that. This trio realistically will not be able to form until the summer of 2024—if it ever does.
Even if it doesn't, Minnesota and Phoenix are relatively small markets that are at perpetual risk of losing their star players. The Timberwolves already went through it with Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love. Their fans probably don't appreciate players joking about something like this. Especially when it comes to players with such long histories with one another.
Russell, Towns and Booker got to know each other on the amateur circuit. Booker and Towns attended Kentucky together, while Russell played at Ohio State. All three entered the 2015 NBA Draft and were taken in the lottery, and have gotten even closer since. Russell and Towns even attended NBA Finals games together.
The story is familiar. It is somewhat reminiscent of the well-known bonds between the top players in the 2003 NBA Draft class that led to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh uniting with the Miami Heat. The reality of the modern NBA is that these kinds of relationships forged when players are young often do lead to partnerships in their prime, and cities like Minnesota and Phoenix tend to get left in the dust when that happens.
It is far too early to say where these three might unite, or if it happens at all. But stating plans like this so overtly is a scary precedent for small-market fans around the NBA.