Eight days after they acquired three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves kept right on going Friday, when they swapped one starting point guard for another and plunged into the NBA’s late-night free agency by targeting Atlanta star forward Paul Millsap, too.
In the afternoon, the Wolves and coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau traded fan favorite Ricky Rubio to Utah for a protected 2018 first-round pick. Then when the clock struck 11 p.m., they agreed to terms with Indiana’s Jeff Teague on a reported three-year, $57 million contract and pursued Millsap, 32, to fill a power forward spot beside Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
To do so, the Wolves will have to clear more cap space even after their trade with Utah freed Rubio’s $14.1 million salary for this coming season.
They still have more than $14 million to add a player(s) who can improve either their shooting, defense, depth and leadership, or all four. That’s not enough to land a player such as Millsap, a four-time All-Star.
He would give the Wolves another two-way star to go with Butler, but to add him they will likely have to renounce the rights to restricted free agent Shabazz Muhammad and trade center Cole Aldrich. They could dangle that first-round pick they acquired Friday to a team willing to take Aldrich’s contract that has two years remaining.
ESPN late Friday night reported the Wolves also are aggressively chasing Los Angeles Clippers free-agent shooter J.J. Redick.
Friday’s trade with the Jazz is contingent on Rubio passing a physical examination in Utah.
Teague just turned 29 — two-plus years older than Rubio — and was an All-Star himself in 2015.
The Jazz will send Oklahoma City’s lottery-protected, first-round pick in 2018 to the Wolves and in turn absorb Rubio’s salary into their cap space. Just hours later, the Thunder acquired superstar Paul George in a stealthy trade with Indiana that could impact the Wolves’ new pick’s worth.
Utah had $16 million in available cap space that it had to use or lose by midnight Friday. Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s big contract extension began Saturday, thus gobbling up any extra space the Jazz had.
The trade ends Rubio’s six uneven seasons in Minnesota after the team and newly hired basketball boss David Kahn drafted him fifth overall in 2009 and waited two seasons for him to come from Europe to the NBA.
He became something of a matinee idol in those six seasons because of his flashy passing and unselfish play as well as his good looks and charming Spanish accent. But his career was sidetracked by a suspect jump shot that only recently noticeably improved, as well as a torn knee ligament that ended his rookie season and disrupted the next and by a serious ankle injury that cost him much of his fourth season, in 2014-15.
Rubio finished last season strong, showing both that improved shot and a newfound offensive assertiveness after February’s All-Star break.
Last week, Rubio tweeted farewell to younger teammate Zach LaVine after the Wolves traded LaVine to Chicago in the Butler deal, saying he was going to miss him.
“Sad part of this business,” Rubio tweeted then.
Now he is headed to a Jazz team that reached the playoffs’ second round this season, while Teague will join his third team in two years.
Thibodeau presumably is making the player swap because he considers it an upgrade at point guard. He repeatedly has said his team needs better outside shooting to create more court space for Towns, Wiggins and now Butler to work offensively.
Teague has proven more durable than Rubio throughout his career, never playing fewer than 70 games in any of his eight seasons. He also is a better shooter by the percentages than Rubio across the board, but averages less than one three-pointer made a game. He also is not considered the active team defender that Rubio is.
Teague is, however, a speedy scorer and passer as well as skilled pick-and-roll guard who helped the Hawks to a 60 regular-season victories and the Eastern Conference playoffs three years ago.
He played his first seven seasons in Atlanta until Dennis Schroder took his starter’s job and played this past season with Indiana.
“He’s very talented. I loved playing with him,” said Atlanta forward and Roseville’s own Mike Muscala, who played his three NBA seasons with Teague. “Great passer, real fast, real quick. He has gotten better moving without the ball. He’ll defend. He created a lot of steals for us.”
NBA teams cannot officially sign players until Thursday.