The Suns have bet on D'Angelo Russell to fail

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

Last week I said it would be a failure if the Suns made no effort to acquire D'Angelo Russell at the NBA trade deadline. I pointed out what nobody would: That it is extraordinarily rare for an NBA organization to dangle a 23-year old All-Star while he's locked up on a long term contract. The Warriors found themselves in that situation this year, because they knew that when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson got healthy, there would be no room for Russell in the starting lineup.

The Suns did nothing.

What is most alarming about their lack of interest or effort, even if Suns fans and local media won't admit it, is that the current landscape of the NBA dictates that it is not just a trend for NBA stars to leave bad organizations for greener pastures, it has become a star's responsibility. A right of passage. If you're not controlling your own destiny and finding better teammates, it will be counted against your legacy. You will either be labeled a "losing player", or you will simply be irrelevant. Devin Booker is on track to be more Damian Lillard than Kobe Bryant, if he stays with the Suns.

 

But there's one thing that can save face for James Jones and Robert Sarver: The inevitable Andrew Wiggins-D'Angelo Russell post-trade career comparison. The Timberwolves traded 1st- and 2nd-round picks, along with Wiggins, for Russell, which means their career trajectories are set for an unavoidable juxtaposition. I'm not so sure Russell will win that battle.

Andrew Wiggins has found himself in the perfect situation. He's surrounded by grown ups, on an organization that will compete for a title next year when the roster is back to form. But perhaps most importantly, he'll become the 4th scoring option when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are healthy. What's been the one defining knock on Wiggins throughout his young career? He's not a dog. He doesn't have the "Mamba mentality." Well, great, because the Warriors will be asking him to be more Harrison Barnes than Kawhi Leonard. With the Warriors' spacing, and the responsibility their stars will take off of Wiggins, he has found himself in quite possibly his most well-fitted situation in the NBA.

 

D'Angelo Russell isn't so lucky. Sure, he's with his best friend Karl-Anthony Towns, but on an organization that has one winning season since 2005. Besides, have you ever tried living or working with your best friend? I did, freshman year of college at Montana State. We lived in a dorm called "Roskie", which made High Times magazine as one of the top-10 marijuana trafficking dorms in the US in the late 90's. My best friend and I confirmed those rumors, and flunked out after our freshman year. To be fair, it wasn't all Jake's fault, but we certainly influenced each other to drink more heavily, not study harder. Russell and Towns are certainly more successful, but they have never been accused of being the most focused pair in the NBA. Russell was famously shipped out of LA after snitching on teammate Nick Young for cheating on his rapper girlfriend, and Towns was challenged by Jimmy Butler for not being tough in a highly publicized practice.

 

The Suns are essentially going short on D'Angelo Russell's stock. They've bet on him to fail. The worse his career trajectory turns, the better they look. Furthering that venture would be the elevation of Russell's newfound adversary, Andrew Wiggins. The Suns need Golden State to give Wiggins enough support that he shapes up, and Minnesota to give Russell and Towns enough freedom to run out of beer money and call mom for a ride home.

Best case scenario is that Devin Booker looks back on this moment in three years, grateful that his organization protected him from the allure of playing with a friend. Worst case, Russell and Towns win a bunch of games, keep Booker out of the playoffs, and send him tons of annoying snapchats together.

Matthew Jarecki

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