D’Angelo Russell’s most recent 34-point outing against the Boston Celtics should be all the evidence GM Sean Marks needs to lock him up.
Not signing him to an extension sent a silent message, “We need to see more.” Well, if you wait too long, the only thing you’ll be seeing is another team profit from his talents.
Russell has been on a tear this season, averaging career-highs across the board. He’s lead the Nets to a 22-23 record and has them on pace to win their most games in the Marks era.
Most recently, he posted 34 points (18 of them in just one quarter) to power Brooklyn past the Boston Celtics.
Barclays Center was on their feet, mocking the very franchise that set them back for years with chants of “Kyrie’s Leaving!”
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) January 15, 2019
Is there any argument left as to why Russell shouldn’t be locked into Brooklyn Nets future?
You’d be pressed to find one.
However, there’s more than one argument in favor of signing the 22-year old guard. And it goes far beyond keeping him in a Nets uniform.
In the same season, Russell has campaigned for an All-Star spot, the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, and a future spot on his own team.
Averaging 18.3 points, 6.3 assists, and a .356 clip from deep; Russell’s certainly earned one, if not two of those accolades.
He and the Nets have put together their best season in the recent year, despite losing their best player (Caris LeVert) to injury.
Beyond the numbers, Brooklyn would be wise to lock Russell into a long-term deal, before he can reach free agency in July.
Potential Return, via Trade
The market for point guard has thinned out this season, with Mavs’ Dennis Smith Jr. representing the latest name to be rumored as available. A young guard with Russell’s skill set could certainly net a positive return, provided he’s on the right contract.
It’s unlikely teams would give up assets for Russell when there’s a chance they could just lose him to restricted free agency.
So, you sign him to a team-friendly deal before his agent can explore the market. Then, if retaining Russell moving forward isn’t the plan, at least you don’t let him walk without fetching assets in return.
Multiple teams will be shopping for young point guards come free agency. Phoenix still hasn’t found a backcourt partner for Devin Booker, who’s very close friends with Russell.
The Orlando Magic, rumored to be in the Dennis Smith Jr sweepstakes, haven’t had a serviceable point guard since the days of Jameer Nelson.
Hell, the Memphis Grizzlies may even be ready to part with the shell of Mike Conley and invest in a younger guard as they prepare to rebuild.
The market is there. Russell’s play is garnering eyes. There’ll be a demand, should Brooklyn choose to explore it.
Maintaining a Culture
Brooklyn has begun to build up a sort-of reputation among players. There’s a sense of a player-friendly culture building, with the proof evident in a few of their own.
The Nets brought guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris into the fold years ago when their careers were headed southbound.
Now, both guards have signed team friendly deals to remain with the Nets, otherwise putting the league on notice of what’s building in Brooklyn. D’Angelo Russell should be no exception.
The team traded their focal point and only star talent Brook Lopez for the guard in a deal with Los Angeles last summer, who had all but given up on the (then) 21-year old. A former 2nd overall pick, Russell was critiqued by the Lakers front office as “not a leader.” Now, he’s completely surpassed that narrative, thanks to the Brooklyn organization.
Signing him to an extension helps reinforce the idea that any player attached to a certain reputation can start fresh, even if not with the Brooklyn Nets.
This could come to the Nets benefit as they prepare for the most important summer of the rebuild.
Kevin Durant’s legacy took a hit when he left Oklahoma City to sign with the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. He’ll have the option to enter free agency in the summer.
Another soon-to-be free agent, Kawhi Leonard, recently elected not to play any more games for the San Antonio Spurs. He forced GM R.C. Buford’s hand and was traded to the Toronto Raptors.
If we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that players do pay attention to narratives. They are out to prove them right or wrong and will go where they feel it’s feasible.
Maybe, He's Just That Damn Good
There’s always the obvious possibility that the Brooklyn Nets bring back their point guard for that very reason. He is the leader of this young team and culture, and they want to have him play his career out at Barclays Center.
It’s all hypotheticals, but the Nets front office has seemed to think higher and higher of Russell since the trade last July.
He’s a point guard who’s ceiling has yet to reveal itself, with an incredibly smooth touch on the ball, and basketball IQ that rivals most (if not all) at his age.
Maybe we’re over complicating things, and maybe, just maybe, D’Angelo Russell has proven even those who believed in him just how low the bar was set for him.
D’Angelo Russell has proven this season that he deserves to be paid by one of the 30 teams, even if it isn’t Brooklyn.
Locking him into a deal now helps the Nets better control their options for next summer. Whether that’s signing a top-tier free agent, or locking their core in for the immediate future.
With his performances growing increasingly more star-like on a nightly basis, Marks and company need to make the most of an otherwise profitable opportunity.