12 Worst free agent signings in Golden State Warriors history

Steve Kerr and D'Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Steve Kerr and D'Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images /
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Golden State Warriors
D’Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images /

Worst Warriors free agent signings No. 3: D’Angelo Russell, 2019

In the summer of 2019, Kevin Durant decided to leave the Golden State Warriors to join Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets. Bob Myers and the Golden State Warriors’ front office suddenly had an idea; what if they could turn Durant’s leaving into a sign-and-trade, receiving back an All-Star point guard in the process?

That player was D’Angelo Russell, who made the All-Star Game in 2019 as an injury replacement but was out of the Nets’ plans as they planned to sign Kyrie Irving. All the parties agreed, and the Warriors did some intense cap gymnastics to make it work, including dumping Andre Iguodala on the Memphis Grizzlies at the cost of a first-round pick.

All of that work, including hard-capping themselves, meant they fielded a much weaker team than the one that went to the NBA Finals the year before. With Klay Thompson out for the season, when Stephen Curry went down with a hand injury the team crumbled and ended up at the bottom of the standings.

From the beginning, paying D’Angelo Russell a max contract looked like a mistake. He was not a top-24 player when he made the All-Star Game, and he was a bad fit for the Warriors’ system. They tried to make it work, signing Willie Cauley-Stein to give him a “pick-and-roll partner” but it didn’t help much. Russell shot a mediocre 43 percent from the field and averaged 3.1 turnovers per game as the burden fell on him to try and make the offense go. He did fine, but given how poor of a defender he was, fine was not good enough.

Could Russell have looked better playing alongside a healthy Curry and Klay? Probably; everyone but Kelly Oubre Jr. does. But the reality was that the Warriors gave a max contract to a player who didn’t deserve it, wasn’t a great fit for their system, and would have prevented them from winning in the playoffs.

The Warriors got lucky; the Minnesota Timberwolves were enamored with Russell and traded Andrew Wiggins and a first-round pick for him, a pick that became Jonathan Kuminga. The Warriors “won” the overall transaction. Yet if the Wolves hadn’t been willing to make the trade, the Warriors would have been stuck with an overpaid ill-fitting guard, and there is very little chance they would have won the 2022 title.