Somewhere between speculation and facts (the real ones, not the alternative ones) we can formulate a few ideas about Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio and his future in Minnesota.
As colleague Chip Scoggins wrote, it’s pretty clear based on a combination of national reporting, the Wolves’ using a top pick on point guard Kris Dunn in last year’s draft and coach/President Tom Thibodeau heaping praise on Dunn that Rubio’s time in Minnesota is running out. You don’t have to love Rubio’s game or hate it to come to that conclusion.
It’s also clear that the most recent deal to be floated — Rubio to the Pistons for point guard Reggie Jackson — is a terrible idea. The Wolves have plenty of holes/needs on a 16-28 team, but they also need to find out if Dunn and reserve Tyus Jones can handle all the point guard minutes.
That said, the NBA trade deadline (Feb. 23) is officially less than a month away, and teams are going to be getting itchier to make deals. After spending multiple hours scouring rumors, salary cap info and the needs of other teams, I came up with five potential Rubio trades that actually might make some sense. The most common theme is getting a big man in return, but there are certainly other options.
All specific trade proposals passed the test in the Real GM Trade Checker, which looks for salary matches and other obstacles, unless otherwise stated.
Here we go:
Orlando Magic: What the Wolves could really use is some more size, and the Magic have a nice match with Nikola Vucevic. He’s an efficient big man who can rebound and score. While he might not be a classic rim protector — something the Wolves could surely use — he is under contract for two more years after this one and would immediately help Minnesota. And he’s only 26 (just like Rubio … actually, their birth dates are only three days apart), so he still has some upside. Orlando has a logjam of bigs and Vucevic has been linked to trade rumors. Rubio would bring a steady hand to the Magic’s back court.
Denver Nuggets: Denver is another team with a glut of bigs — a nice problem to have, except they’ve tried playing Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic together and the results were not good. They seem bound to deal one, and it sounds like Nurkic will be the odd man out. He’s only 22 and has a reputation for being a stout defensive player. His salary isn’t enough to match Rubio’s, so the Wolves would have to get creative to make the deal work. But Nurkic could be a key player in a deal involving Denver, while Rubio could relieve some of the pressure on struggling young point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. If the Wolves are insistent on getting a “bridge” point guard who can take some pressure off Dunn and Jones, veteran Jameer Nelson (under contract through next season) could be a good piece coming back. Rubio for Nelson and Nurkic, in fact, works money-wise in the trade checker.
Chicago Bulls: Rajon Rondo has fallen out of favor in Chicago, and the Bulls are reportedly shopping him around. If they are able to find a taker, they could be in the market for a player like Rubio — who has a similar skill set to Rondo but is four years younger. It could even be an opportunity to rekindle discussions about Jimmy Butler since the Bulls’ quick-fix rebuild hasn’t panned out. I don’t think Rubio, Muhammad and next year’s first-round pick (presumed to be in the lottery) are enough to pry him loose. But what about Rubio, Zach LaVine and Muhammad? Maybe.
[Note: the original proposal was Rubio, LaVine and the 2017 first-round pick. Astute reader @fstuve reminds me they can't do that because of the Adreian Payne trade and the first-round pick still owed to Atlanta].
Sacramento Kings: There is a pie-in-the-sky scenario by which the Wolves are able to put together a package to get oft-mentioned trade candidate DeMarcus Cousins — a mercurial big man who nonetheless would be an intriguing fit with the Wolves and is still under contract for next year. That would probably involve more than Rubio and Muhammad. How much more — and whether it’s worth it — is a good question. There are other options with the Kings, too, who need a point guard (starter Darren Collison is in the final year of his contract). If the Wolves didn’t want to overload Dunn with starting duties right away, they could make this swap: Rubio and Muhammad for Collison and veteran wing scorer Arron Afflalo — though I’m not Afflalo is much of an upgrade over lightly used Wolves reserve Brandon Rush. Long story short: the Kings have a point guard need and potential pieces to deal.
Brooklyn Nets: Everybody else in the NBA has at least 15 wins. The Nets have nine. Clearly they’re going nowhere as they bottom out and try to rebuild (their payroll is also last in the league this season). Their best player (by far) is veteran center Brook Lopez, who is just 28 despite being in his ninth NBA season. He’s a 20-point scorer who can block shots (No. 13 in the NBA this season) and has added a three-pointer to his arsenal this year. That skills set might work with the Wolves, and Rubio’s skill set might work with the point guard-starved Nets.
Honorable mention: Kyrie Irving is clearly the starer, but the Cavaliers could absolutely use a player like Rubio. That said, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland having anything of value to offer in return. All of their high-salary players are key members of their rotation, and draft picks they could deal would be late in the first round. But if there is a three-way trade to be made involving another team just looking to clear some cap space, Cleveland could be an intriguing dark horse.