Last July, Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell spoke about using the new five-year, $158MM extension signed by his good friend Devin Booker as “motivation” during the 2018/19 season. Seven months later, Russell has delivered on that promise, positioning himself for a huge payday of his own.
In the midst of a breakout season in Brooklyn, Russell is averaging career highs in PPG (20.3), APG (6.6), FG% (.436), and 3PT% (.372), among other categories. He earned a spot in the All-Star Game in Charlotte this past weekend, and has the Nets in position to make the postseason for the first time since 2015 — at 30-29, the club has already exceeded its win total from each of the last three seasons.
Russell, who will turn 23 years old this Saturday, is poised to hit free agency at the right time. Several teams around the NBA – including the Nets – have the flexibility to offer huge deals, and there are only so many star free agents available. For teams that miss out on the very best options like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving, Russell may look like a tantalizing Plan B.
While the idea that Russell is a maximum-salary candidate may seem surprising, there won’t be many elite point guards available once Irving signs. Russell is six years younger than Kemba Walker and has emerged as a far more intriguing option than Terry Rozier. For a club in need of a point guard – like Booker’s Suns – an aggressive bid on Russell makes a ton of sense.
Of course, Russell will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Nets will have the chance to match any offer he receives. The two sides could also negotiate directly, since Brooklyn is the only team eligible to give Russell five years instead of four. A five-year deal could be worth up to a projected $158MM, while a four-year deal would max out around $117MM.
[RELATED: Maximum Salary Projections for 2019/20]
If the Nets are focused on veteran free agents like Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris when July 1 arrives though, it could open the door for another team to swoop in and sign Russell to a player-friendly offer sheet (perhaps with big up-front payments and a trade kicker), forcing Brooklyn into a tough decision.
Given Sean Marks‘ history of pursuing other teams’ restricted free agents – such as Otto Porter, Allen Crabbe, and Tyler Johnson – and forcing those teams to match massive offer sheets, I expect there will be clubs out there looking to return the favor when Russell reaches restricted free agency. However, the ex-Laker has raved about his time in Brooklyn and may be happy to deal directly with the Nets rather than seeking out an offer sheet.
What do you think? Will Russell get a maximum-salary offer this summer? Will he sign directly with the Nets, or will Brooklyn be forced to decide whether to match another team’s offer? Would the Nets happily match a max offer? Do you expect Russell to ultimately remain in Brooklyn, or can you envision a scenario where he changes teams?
Head to the comment section below to make your predictions on Russell’s upcoming free agency.