The Wolves are reportedly sending Ricky Rubio to Utah for a 2018 first-round pick. The pick, which is actually Oklahoma City’s and was dealt in the Enes Kanter trade in 2015, is top-14 protected in each of the next three drafts, and will convert into two second-rounders if it has not been conveyed by 2020.
That the pick is tied to the Thunder rather than the Jazz, who made it to the Western Conference semis last season, makes the trade more interesting. Still, this is, without question, a salary-based move. Rubio has two years left on his four-year, $55 million contract — around $14 million for this season and next — while the Jazz have $16 million in cap space, which expires at midnight.
Rumors of Tom Thibodeau’s desire to trade Rubio have flooded his Minnesotan tenure from the start. Two NBA drafts ago, it seemed the now-26-year-old Spaniard’s fate was sealed when the Wolves selected point guard Kris Dunn. Except Dunn was dealt first, to Chicago, after an underwhelming rookie season as part of the draft-night acquisition of Jimmy Butler. But Rubio still wasn’t part of Minnesota’s future, even after his best season of his six in the league, averaging career highs of 11.1 points and 9.1 assists. On the Jazz roster, Rubio will be paired with developing guards Dante Exum and Donovan Mitchell. Assuming unrestricted free agent George Hill does not re-sign with Utah, the team makes the loss of Hill less painful, and the team’s position a tad more salvageable, by acquiring the veteran.
With Rubio in Salt Lake, who will be the next point guard to purify himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka? (Assuming the Wolves manage any signings during free agency; if not, we welcome you, Point Jimmy.) There is a plethora of possible replacements, most appealing being Hill. It’s possible: With Butler on the squad, Minnesota has transformed from an exciting young team to one with actual playoff promise.
Jeff Teague’s name is also being thrown out as a "heavy, heavy favorite," as both he and the Wolves have reportedly had "mutual interest." But the list doesn’t stop there: Kyle Lowry, who was recruited to Villanova by current Wolves assistant Ed Pinckney, has also been rumored as a contender for the open roster spot, as has J.J. Redick, and even 2016–17 Bulls reunion organizer Rajon Rondo, whose "swagger" Thibs loves.
In his introductory press conference Thursday, Butler said he was recruiting free agents. That limits the point-guard list to Lowry and Hill — would anyone else be an upgrade over Rubio? Jon Krawczynski of AP reports that owner Glen Taylor "resisted" any Rubio trades until immediately before, which suggests that a worthwhile party became an interested one.