Preview: With trade rumors swirling, Warriors visit Durant's Nets to face off against D'Angelo Russell's old team

The Golden State Warriors have been blessed with a perfect February so far, winning two consecutive games - already doubling their January win total after just two chances.

The trade rumors are swirling fast and furious around the Warriors, who are actively open to mid-season deals for the first time since they dealt Kent Bazemore to the Lakers for guards MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore back in 2014. This time around, the Warriors have a couple of fungible assets (Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson), as well as a coveted young star.

But whether or not D’Angelo Russell gets traded, tonight he will head back to the team that made him famous, the Brooklyn Nets. The guy who switched places with him isn’t quite yet back on the court, but this should make for some mildly interesting drama as Kevin Durant’s time with - and departure from - Golden State was… intense.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (12-39) at Brooklyn Nets (22-27)

WHEN: Wednesday February 5, 2020; 4:30 pm PST

WHERE: Barklays Center, Brooklyn NY

WATCH: NBC Sports Bay Area


Two linked franchises

Much like the Marcus Williams trade that hung over the Warriors franchise for five years, the star player swap that the Warriors and Nets did this past offseason is going to have impacts that reverberate through time.

For the Nets, they got an all-NBA talent, and one of the best players of this generation. He’s banged up after sacrificing his Achilles tendon to the NBA Gods while trying his best to help the Warriors pull of a historic threepeat.

Just yesterday, we got a glimpse of Durant’s rehab process, and though he still doesn’t figure to return this season it’s still a great sign that he’s moving back towards health.

As far as the Nets go, they’ve got a bad offense and a mediocre defense, which is good enough to get them in as the 7th seed if the Eastern Conference playoffs started today. Kyrie Irving, the other highly regarded player that New Jersey signed during the offseason has missed seven games this year, possibly factoring in their less than stellar season. Also, much like Golden State, we should be careful to judge a team missing so much top-end talent. Once Durant returns, it will change the entire dynamic of the team.

For the Warriors, D’Angelo Russell holds a strange place in the pantheon of assets. Highly valued, young, and an efficient scorer that is exactly the sort of player highly prized in the modern NBA, the relationship between he and the Warriors will reverberate for a while.

Trade him? If so, what for? The Warriors can’t necessarily write their own ticket here, but they are in a position of power because with all the injuries, there really isn’t any urgency to figure out a long term plan with Russell right now.

On the flip side, the Warriors (and many observers) are intrigued by the idea of keeping Russell around for the long run.

As we’ve seen with the Warriors roster over the past couple years, just having Curry and Thompson is not a viable strategy for offense. With defensive-minded cornerstones like Kevon Looney and Draymond Green, it makes a lot of sense for the Warriors to invest in another shooter.

The problem is the market inefficiency of the NBA right now. What the Warriors want most (a “3 and D” wing player) is probably the most overpriced category of player. So where else could the Warriors procure the sort of output that Russell offers?

No matter how this shakes out, both the Warriors and Nets franchises have been fundamentally transformed by a single trade; so expect these matchups to feel a little bit personal.

Are…. are the Warriors starting to actually figure it out?

As we’ve watched this mess of a season unfold, it’s been anyone’s guess if the Warriors could ever get it together. Because of injuries and trades, the Warriors have been operating with a skeleton crew. And even worse, that skeleton crew is mostly made up of all the weird deck hands that the ship hired in the last port with whatever change they could scrounge up.

But the Warriors are good at this. Bob Myers and the Warriors front office have been excellent at scraping up valuable players for pennies on the dollar. From David West to Javale McGee, the team has a long history of getting players to come here for cheap, and then getting a lot out of them. Recently, it’s begun to look like this old trick has paid off again.

One of those players, Eric Paschall is heading to All Star weekend, mostly on the strength of his offensive game, which can feel surprisingly overpowering, for a rookie.

The Warriors have won two games in a row, putting up admirable offensive numbers. Admittedly, these last two games were against the two worst defenses in the NBA - which is why this Nets game is going to be such an interesting test.

As per NBA’s advanced stats, the Nets have the 13th ranked defensive efficiency, allowing just 108 points per 100 possessions (as compared to the 115-116 point range associated with the Cavaliers and Wizards). So if the Warriors offense really is figuring things out, they’ll have to be able to demonstrate it against the more solid defense of the Nets.

The return of Kevon Looney

When Kevon Looney signed his big three-year, $15 million contract coach Steve Kerr referred to him as a “foundational piece” but Looney’s first season on that new deal has been anything but smooth.

After breaking his chest on a Kawhi Leonard elbow, Looney spent his summer working on getting his body healthy rather than his game. Then came the initial hamstring pull, which he returned from shortly after only to re-aggravate immediately. Eventually, the team designated it as a neuropathic condition associated with his hip surgeries in his rookie year. With no timeline given for his return, and no meaningful updates, Looney faded into the background amongst a backdrop of a struggling team.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic penned the most detailed update article we’ve seen on Looney. In a wide-ranging conversation that covers everything from last season’s chest injury to the pressure of playing on a large contract, it sounds like Looney is finally all the way healthy and fully ready to return to the dynamic, flexible player that won the hearts of Dub nation.

But that’s out of sight, out of mind for Looney in the moment. On ground zero, he’s in the very early stages of resuscitating his season. After sitting out 18 games because of that abdominal strain, he finally returned on this current road trip and, in brief minutes, has finally looked a bit like his old self — snagging long-armed rebounds, setting wipeout screens, sticking with guards on the perimeter. 

This is the player that the Warriors invested in.

Looney’s return, coinciding with the Warriors hot February start, and Steph Curry’s imminent return has rejuvenated the energy around the team. Another win tonight is going to be difficult against a superior Nets team, but with the way the Warriors are looking now, they have a puncher’s chance in this game - which is something we haven’t been able to say for most of the season.