The Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday, shipping Jeff Teague and Treveon Graham to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for sharpshooter Allen Crabbe. The deal left them with only one true point guard on the active roster in Shabazz Napier. Beyond him, they have only two-way point guard Jordan McLaughlin and a number of players playing out of position (most notably Andrew Wiggins). They wouldn't have made the Teague trade if they didn't plan to replace him with another point guard. Sure enough, on the same day as that deal, they wound up linked to a different point guard on the trade market.
The Timberwolves are intensifying their pursuit of Golden State Warriors point guard D'Angelo Russell, according to Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. The Warriors, to this point, have held off on moving Russell, and are in no rush to do so according to Charania and Krawczynski.
While the widespread assumption was that Golden State merely acquired him out of opportunism and planned to trade him for assets that made more sense alongside their core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Russell has played extremely well for the Warriors in averaging a career-high 23.3 points per game. His fit with that trio, and a potential top lottery pick, remains questionable, but the Warriors can afford to be patient. They have no playoff aspirations this season, and at age 23, Russell is likely to retain his value for quite some time.
The risk in doing so is the possibility that Minnesota finds a different point guard. Minnesota had already asked about Indiana Pacers point guard Aaron Holiday, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, and while they were rebuffed, it does show that Minnesota is willing to consider options besides Russell despite his close friendship with incumbent star Karl-Anthony Towns.
If the Warriors were to send Russell to Minnesota, versatile defender Robert Covington would almost certainly be in the trade. He is an elite defensive player across multiple positions, at 36 percent for his career, he is a slightly above-average 3-point shooter. In that sense, he could be Golden State's next Andre Iguodala: a top defender and role player who may not be a fantastic shooter, but does so well enough to keep him on the floor against anyone.
Filling in the rest of the deal would be a bit more complicated. Keeping Teague would have alleviated things because he had a large expiring salary. He and Covington combine for around $30.3 million in total, whereas Russell makes around $27.3 million. Golden State would need to shed some extra salary to fit the deal under the hard cap, but functionally, that basic construction would have been easiest on the Warriors because it wouldn't have asked them to take on any extra long-term salary besides Covington's.
Without Teague, that becomes harder. Crabbe has a similar salary, but because he was acquired through the Traded Player Exception, his salary can't be aggregated with another player's in a trade for two months, making him practically useless in Minnesota's pursuit of Russell. Gorgui Dieng has the right salary number to make such a deal work, but Golden State surely wouldn't be enthusiastic about taking on an extra year of money for him. They would likely ask for another asset to do so.
The Timberwolves clearly had a plan in mind to work around that. Otherwise, they wouldn't have traded Teague. Their pursuit of Holiday proves that they aren't dead set on Russell, though, so if nothing else, they could at least generate a shred of leverage. They will need it if they plan to pry Russell away from the Warriors. Golden State has given no indication that a Russell trade is imminent. If the Timberwolves want him, they'll likely have to blow the Warriors away.