Why the Andrew Wiggins trade could have shocking ripple effects for the Warriors
- Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print.
THE SERIES OF deals that helped the Golden State Warriors prolong their run atop the NBA — a thread that goes back to Kevin Durant and spins forward indefinitely — began with what promised to be an uncomfortable exit interview.
Days after a crushing NBA Finals defeat that seemed to bury the Warriors dynasty under the weight of injuries, Bob Myers, the team’s president of basketball operations, sat down with Andre Iguodala.
Myers looked at Iguodala and delivered a hard truth: “We might have to trade you,” Myers says.
As any diligent organization would, the Warriors after the 2019 Finals were bracing for Durant’s potential departure in free agency — perhaps to the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets. In internal spitballing sessions, they batted out sign-and-trade options, hoping to convert Durant’s roster spot — in the event he left — into a youngish veteran who might help them transition eras.
They prepared as quietly as they could. They wanted Durant to stay. The Knicks had nothing of interest. The plucky Nets, though, they had an outgoing free agent with some upside: D’Angelo Russell. If Durant left, maybe the Warriors could convince him — and the Nets, and Russell, and Russell’s agents — to agree to a double sign-and-trade deal?
That would subject the Warriors to a hard cap, forcing them to dump a big contract: Iguodala’s. In the exit interview, Myers braced for Iguodala’s reaction.
“I remember him looking at me like, ‘I understand,'” Myers recalls. “He wasn’t like, ‘Screw you.’ He was as professional as you can get. He’s so smart, he wasn’t shocked by it.”
As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported, Myers met with Durant and Rich Kleiman, Durant’s business partner, after Durant had made his decision in the early hours of free agency to try to persuade them on the double sign-and-trade. Durant and Myers are close. As Shelburne reported, Durant did not love the idea of getting traded. The Nets had no incentive to help the Warriors; they could have signed Durant outright. But Myers emphasized how a double sign-and-trade arrangement could help both franchises; Durant could leave behind a player, and the Nets could get an extra draft pick for their troubles.
They eventually agreed on a double sign-and-trade deal that sent a top-20 protected first-round pick in 2020 to Brooklyn. The Warriors sank so far the next season, the pick never conveyed; the Nets will instead receive a 2025 second-rounder.
When news of the potential deal broke, Russell and one of his agents were on a helicopter ride above Los Angeles with Gersson Rosas — then the Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations — as part of the Wolves wooing of Russell. Wolves brass suspected the Warriors were closing in on something with Russell, sources say. They wanted to go through the full recruitment anyway, knowing the Warriors might flip Russell later, sources say.
Rosas had left a car for Aaron Mintz, one of Russell’s main agents, at the L.A. headquarters of Creative Artists Agency, sources say. The car was something of a test: If Mintz showed for the chopper tour, the Wolves were in the game. Mintz didn’t show, though he had other free agency meetings that day, sources say.
Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach, was vacationing in Hawaii as Golden State searched out teams with space to take on Iguodala’s contract. Kerr was only checking his phone occasionally. When Myers struck a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, he called Kerr. No answer. Myers had to execute.
When Kerr retrieved his phone, he saw a text from Myers explaining the trade — which sent Iguodala and a top-four protected 2024 first-round pick to Memphis.
“I was crushed,” Kerr says. “Like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe we are losing part of our soul.'”
Kerr called Iguodala. “He said something like, ‘Sorry, coach, I’m not surprised,'” Kerr remembers. “He probably knew it was coming before I did.”
Notifying Kerr was not Myers’ toughest post-trade conversation. “The harder one was when I called [Stephen Curry],” Myers says. “They are friends. Steph knows what Andre means to the team. There’s a respect level. You see how much Andre supports Steph publicly and privately. Steph knows that.”
Curry digested the news as Myers spoke.
“Steph is never demanding,” Myers says. “He wants to understand, and he deserves that. I had to explain, we need to give ourselves options, and if we don’t do this, we don’t have many. I had been with Steph for seven or eight years, so there’s trust.”
The Warriors knew Russell might prove an awkward fit alongside Curry and within the Warriors’ motion offense. Could the Warriors survive on defense with the Russell-Curry-Klay Thompson trio once Thompson returned from a torn ACL?
The safer route might have been letting Durant walk; keeping Iguodala and both first-round picks that went out; and filling out the roster with the midlevel exception. Golden State examined that path and asked one hard question, sources say: How does it get us an impact player who might be ready to help Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green soon?
Russell might not have been that player, but he was 23 and rising. With Thompson out, the Warriors needed a veteran to soak up minutes. Minnesota’s interest in Russell would not dry up. Golden State believed the Knicks might have interest too, sources say.
“That [Iguodala] trade was a great example of why the coach should not be the general manager,” Kerr says. “If I had been in charge, I wouldn’t have done the deal, and we wouldn’t be sitting here with Andrew Wiggins and [Jonathan] Kuminga.”
THE RUSSELL-TO-MINNESOTA rumblings never ceased after the Warriors dealt for Russell.
“The rumors were around, almost even in that summer [of 2019],” Wiggins recalls. “I was prepared for anything.”
Curry broke his hand in the Warriors’ third game of the 2019-20 season, joining Thompson on the injury list. Golden State was 5-24 as Christmas approached. After a 3-0 start that resulted in some premature braggadocio on social media, the Wolves fell apart — entering January with a record of 12-20.
Internally, they began to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns growing discontented, sources say. Towns had several years left on his contract, but superstars were leveraging exits earlier and earlier. In five seasons, Towns and Wiggins had accomplished little at the team level — aside from the 74-game Jimmy Butler experience that produced one playoff win and ended in melodrama so fiery, it inspired an entire “Game of Zones” episode. Towns and Russell were close friends with open interest in playing together.
The Wolves had tried everything to reach Wiggins — to tap into the intensity that seemed only to run hot when Wiggins faced a team that had traded him. Tensions burst on Jan. 22 at the Chicago Bulls. The Wolves had allowed players to bring spouses and girlfriends on the road trip, an unusual concession for which Wiggins (among others) had pushed, sources say. Maybe, the Wolves hoped, family would inspire him.
At halftime, Wiggins was 1-of-4 with four turnovers. Ryan Saunders, then the Wolves coach and a fervent backer of Wiggins, screamed at Wiggins in the locker room.
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