D'Angelo Russell has played up to his No. 2 pick status this season. He’s averaging 20.5 points per game, shooting 36.8 percent from three, and dishing out 6.7 assists a night — he played well enough to be an All-Star in the East this season.
It’s the kind of season he wanted to have before he hits restricted free agency this summer.
What is Russell going to make on the open market this summer, one where a lot of teams have cap space to burn. Russell can work out a deal to stay in Brooklyn, or he can sign an offer sheet with another team this July and the Nets will have the rights to match. The Nets have tried to use restricted free agency in recent years to poach talent — making oversized offers to Otto Porter, Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe — that forced teams to pay big. One executive told Michael Scotto of The Athletic that could come back to bite the Nets with their own coveted free agent.
“I think D’Angelo is worth around $20 million (annually),” one long-time Eastern Conference executive said. “Is this payback time for the Nets? Will teams offer him the way they (Nets) did for Crabbe, Porter, and Johnson? I think he turned the corner. I think he has a chip on his shoulder.”
“He’s going to be in high demand and will get close to max with his overall improvement,” a Western Conference executive said.
If a team thinks this season’s Russell is what they will get going forward, $20 million for an All-Star player at the most important position on the floor is about right. If not a little low.
The question is will the Nets pay it? After extending Spencer Dinwiddie for three-years, $34 million starting next season at the same position (in what may be a below-market deal for a Sixth Man of the Year candidate), do the Nets look at that price tag for Russell and think they would be better spending their money elsewhere?
The Nets have max cap space, a good young core, and are in New York — they are going to be free agent players this summer.
One last note on Russell: In the wake of their struggles this season, Magic Johnson and the Lakers have taken a lot of heat for sending Russell out in a trade that was really about dumping Timofey Mozgov‘s mistake of a contract. To the point Nets fans started a “thank you Magic” chant during a recent game at the Barclays’ Centre.
Russell almost certainly would not have developed into the player he is now if he hadn’t been given the shock of a trade and a clean slate in Brooklyn. Russell had created problems for himself in Los Angeles that went beyond the well-publicized Nick Young Snapchat incident. Sometimes players need a new environment to grow, mature, and thrive. That was Russell.
He took full advantage of that opportunity and is about to get paid for it.