The Brooklyn Nets are looking to make franchise-altering moves this offseason, but it may include letting go of some prominent contributors from their 42-win 2018-19 season — which was highlighted by a playoff appearance. According to SNY’s Ian Begley, if the Nets come to an agreement with point guard Kyrie Irving in free agency, D’Angelo Russell will likely head elsewhere.
If the Nets make the bold decision to let Russell, who averaged a team-high 21.1 points and seven assists per game this season, go, or he simply decides he wants to leave Brooklyn, he’ll be one of the best players on the open market.
Here are three potential free agent landing spots for the former number two pick.
3. Phoenix Suns
There are few teams that have been in need of a franchise point guard more than the Suns. They have a boatload of talent, but continually finish near the bottom of the Western Conference. Russell would change their fortunes.
With the likes of Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and T.J. Warren, among others, in place, the Suns have one of, if not the most talented young core in the NBA. They’re devoid of someone to run their offense, and new head coach Monty Williams is going to want such a player in his rotation. A two-man game of Russell and Booker would be lethal and complement each other well when considering Russell’s ability to get inside and Booker’s outside shooting.
The basketball world keeps waiting for the Suns to rise in what’s a deep conference, and locking down a franchise point guard on the rise would be a huge step in the right direction. Booker is an elite scorer, Ayton has the skill set and size to be an offensive force, and Warren is quietly one of the best two-way forwards in the league.
Another huge benefit of signing D’Angelo Russell is that the Suns wouldn’t have to trade the number six pick in the upcoming NBA Draft to acquire someone to be their floor general, which is a scenario that has been discussed. Instead, the Suns can utilize their pick to add another talented frontline player and get themselves back on the NBA map — for the right reasons. To open up more cap space, they could trade Josh Jackson for some assets to deepen their bench.
2. Utah Jazz
The Jazz are a lockdown defensive team, but they need to drastically improve their offense if they’re going to get over the hump; Russell would be a godsend for head coach Quin Snyder’s rotation.
Donovan Mitchell is one of the NBA’s youngest franchise players, and his ability to put the Jazz on his back and take accountability is extremely impressive. At the same time, he needs help carrying the scoring load. This season, Russell showed similar qualities, and his presence would take pressure off Mitchell to score at a high clip, as well as open up opportunities throughout their offense.
Russell could get the ball to outside snipers such as Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver, and Jae Crowder while having a potential lethal pick and roll and/or alley-oop game with Rudy Gobert. It’s better to be an elite defensive team that needs to improve on the other end of the floor than an elite offensive team that has to improve its defense. The Jazz have continuity and are a team that thrives in the half-court, but they need more electricity and aggressive offensive play.
The Jazz are on the brink of being a force to be reckoned with in the West. They have to take advantage of the window they have with Mitchell and Gobert, even if it means dealing an impactful wing, or Dante Exum to open up cap space. D’Angelo Russell would spring their offense and be the player they need to take things to the next level.
1. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are an elite defensive team, as finishing first in opponent points per game (104.7) this season proves. With that said, they desperately need more offense, and Russell would provide them with the jolt they need.
D’Angelo Russell established himself as one of the best scoring guards in the NBA this season. He played well in isolation, advanced the Nets’ offense with his playmaking ability, and showed a willingness to take big shots. With an unknown return date on Victor Oladipo, who suffered a season-ending quad injury in January, Russell would take over as the Pacers go-to scorer.
The Pacers have a roster that’s similar to the way this year’s Nets team was constructed. They have versatile frontline players such as Domantas Sabonis and Doug McDermott, as well as one of the best two-way centers in the NBA in Myles Turner. Russell could find them in all the right places offensively and attract attention, opening up opportunity for others.
The Pacers’ struggle to score points in their first-round series matchup with the Boston Celtics was difficult to watch for a team that claimed the five seed in the Eastern Conference. With Bojan Bogdanovic, who led the Pacers in scoring after Oladipo went down (18 points per game), hitting the open market, they need to find players who they can consistently rely on to score. And when the Pacers get to full force, they’d have the talent to contend. Plus, if they find a way to keep Bogdanovic, they would be even more dangerous.