Life without Wolves: Where would Ricky Rubio shine?
- The Ricky Rubio trade rumors have bubbled up here and there, but what is the best scenario for the Timberwolves' embattled point guard?
Ricky Rubio has always been a little too good to be true. When he hit basketball radars as a teenager, he was quite possibly the first European player to look great on a mixtape. The longer he stayed overseas, the more curious we became. When he finally got here, he was just as captivating, firmly in the running for Rookie of the Year before an ACL tear ended his season. Then he overcame that. He made us wonder if David Kahn had actually drafted a legitimate point guard. Young Rubio was, above all else, fun, and in our era of superteams and tanking, that means even more.
Needless to say, none of that has ever quite coalesced to fulfill the dangerous weight of expectation Rubio faced. He turns 26 in October, and there are two ways of looking at that number. To an extent, he is undeniably who he is, iffy jump shot and all. The essence of his game won’t change. On the other hand, he’s still one of the NBA’s unique talents and still has time on his side. Really, these statements aren’t mutually exclusive, which leaves room for hope. He isn’t and won’t ever be wired to score, but not all point guards are or have to be. We’ll get an eyeful of Rubio at the Olympics next month with Spain, and if you watch him closely, you might get the inkling that there’s an offense out there waiting for him to unlock it.
Anyway, one thing everyone can agree on—the Timberwolves team Rubio held the keys to is never coming back. Kevin Love is gone. Rookie Kris Dunn is here, and looks like a quintessential Tom Thibodeau point guard. The team’s ceiling is directly tied to Karl-Anthony Towns, a 7-foot helium balloon beginning to fly free. It’s not clear how or exactly when a Rubio deal might happen, but he’s on an now-eminently affordable contract through 2019. Teams need point guards. Rumors have bubbled up here and there. Let’s hypothesize.
Let’s start at the intersection of obvious and perfect. Don’t even worry about how it would actually happen. There’s a permutation of the future where Rubio slides right in as Tony Parker prepares to hang it up, starts to drink the magical Chip Engelland jump shot elixir, and becomes the perfect playmaker compliment to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as San Antonio enters another era of 50-win seasons and title chasing.
Aside from the obvious basketball fit as an unselfish, unorthodox player and capable defender, not to mention his European roots, Rubio would be the best pure passer to come through Gregg Popovich’s Spurs program. Whether or not his shooting percentages enjoy an uptick, it’s all just too philosophically perfect not to work. This is the outcome fans should want, and the exact brand of career resuscitation Rubio needs. And hey, Pau Gasol is already there.
Here’s a chaotic theory. Ricky Rubio for Rudy Gay has become a favored hypothetical trade in the SI dot com offices of late and also seems eminently possible—and weirdly sensible. The Kings say they’re happy with Darren Collison at point guard? It’s the Kings. And crazily enough, they’ve assembled enough weird veteran parts and extraneous big men that throwing Rubio into the mix at least makes you think. Does this elevate the Kings into eight-seed position? Not at all. But would pick and pop with Rubio and the multitalented Boogie Cousins be fun? Probably. The converse—Thibs reuniting with Team USA pupil Rudy Gay and forcing him to play defense—isn’t bad either.
But, all that said, would this actually kick-start Rubio’s career? Eh…absolutely not.
Houston has tried and tried and never found quite the right backcourt compliment to James Harden—apologies to Pat Beverley, of course. Mike D’Antoni wants to unlock the offense? Harden wants easier looks? Putting the ball in Ricky’s hands is one place to start. The only point guards on the roster right now are Pat Bev and 38-year-old Jason Terry. This would clearly be something. Whether that something really moves the needle is another question.
But think about it. Trevor Ariza or Corey Brewer would likely have to go the other way as a starting point, but this team isn’t guarding anybody for the next decade, so who cares? Operation get-Harden-a-point-guard could do worse. Rubio can defend and jump passing lanes and take off a bit of that pressure. But then again, Harden couldn’t play with Ty Lawson, who loved having the ball, and Ricky loves having the ball, and so…yeah. You see the problem. It feels like the Rockets get tied to every player with prestige and can never quite get it done. Daryl Morey would have to be feeling desperate.
Look, another team with a non-shooting point guard that is rumored to want an upgrade with…a non-shooting point guard. Rubio is, at least, we think, probably, definitely better than Michael Carter-Williams. It totally feels like a Milwaukee move to get this done—the how of it is kind of messy, but who cares? At least they’d have a starting caliber point guard. Would the Wolves take Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe and send back Gorgui Dieng? Eh…
But Rubio is fun, and the Bucks are fun, and this would be entertaining to watch. Sure, Rubio’s already on a young, athletic team, and yes, he made them better last season. Maybe a scenery shift—and having a point guard for a coach in Jason Kidd—can flip this into a positive outcome. He doesn’t solve the shooting issues, but he’d fit in the scheme defensively and add a helpful dose of creativity. Score one for Internet highlights, at least.
No opposing defender would ever go over a ball screen for the next eon in Philly, but the idea of not one, but two savant-level passers on the same court is 100% enticing. Which bears asking…is Ben Simmons, the 6’10” Rajon Rondo, really the 6’10” Ricky Rubio? I digress.
The Sixers just need players, and they’re not going to win a lot of games anyway, so send Jahlil Okafor up north to team with Karl Towns (who would have thought, right?), clear up the frontcourt situation a bit, and let Rubio do some playmaking while Simmons learns to score off the ball and expands his skill set a little more. It would push both players, and Philly can afford to see what happens. So what they just signed Sergio Rodriguez?
It’s a little bit whimsical, but with Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday set to cash in as free agents next year, this would be a no-brainer upgrade for New Orleans. The Pelicans look like they’re finally ready to rebuild, and Buddy Hield, a professional shooter, actually compliments Rubio’s strengths and weaknesses extremely well on paper. And when was the last time Anthony Davis got an easy shot in a game? Send back Holiday, a better scorer and fit for the Thibodeau ethos, and the Wolves can decide how to use the added cap space after gauging how ready they are to compete this season. Don’t hate it.
The Mavs, as always, need parts, and anytime they can get them under the age of 30, that’s a net win. Rubio would look good with Dallas’s experienced roster, one that sorely needs a playmaker to connect its disparate parts, and could conceivably sneak into the playoffs by finessing this. Do it for Dirk!
But, surprise, there are problems. Would the Wolves eat Deron Williams’s contract and another part to make it work? Do the Mavericks actually have anything of value to offer? Dwight Powell? Anyone? Bueller?
Ugh. What’s the point. Just watch the above video of young Ricky, dream of alternate realities, and sigh an existential sigh.