By: Alex Berg
After last week’s draft, I wrote about how I hope Kris Dunn’s presence will not remove Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves roster. At the risk of sounding redundant, I’m going to make a stronger case for keeping Rubio. Last week, I focused more on Dunn and how he can coexist with Rubio. This is more about Rubio.
As one of the bigger “Rubiobos” you will find, I was struggling to endorse drafting Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick. I realized Dunn was probably the best player available and he offers athleticism at the point guard position that might be needed to eventually contend with teams like Golden State, Oklahoma City and Portland. I love what I think he will bring to the table on the defensive end. Especially under new head coach and defensive guru Tom Thibodeau. Despite the bonuses of adding Dunn to the young core the Wolves have, I was still hesitant to be excited about the pick because of the possible handwriting on the wall that may suggest Rubio’s time in Minnesota may be limited. As I said last week, I am in full support of the Dunn pick IF the Wovles were genuine in saying they think Rubio and Dunn can coexist. Having flexibility at the point guard position, having two point guards at an affordable price and how this can open up things for the rest of the Wolves offseason actually has me excited about this pick.
First, and perhaps most importantly, it is not illegal to have multiple point guards on a NBA roster. The Timberwolves, of all teams, should know this by now, as they spent most of the 2015-16 season without a second ball-handler and because of that, they got destroyed with Rubio off the floor. Tyus Jones impressed me late last season, but if Thibodeau and company wants to go into the 2016-17 season without committing minutes to the second-year point guard, I can certainly understand and support that.
If the ultimate goal is being able to compete with the best of Western conference, having two capable point guards is going to be a necessity. Especially if teams like Golden State continues to play “smallball” late in games. A “small” lineup of Rubio, Dunn, Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns just might be able to stack up against any other small lineup in the league, both offensively and defensively.
At first, I thought I would maybe consider moving Rubio only if the return would be a knockdown three-point shooter, but now I think I would need that plus help elsewhere. The reason? Rubio’s contract is about to become one of the better bargains in the NBA. With the new TV money coming into play this summer and the inflated salary caps teams will have to work with, contract numbers are going to start looking outrageous. Rubio is under contract for the next three seasons and will make $13.4 million this upcoming season. If that seems like a large number to you, just wait about ten days. Free agents are about to get paid like never before and any serviceable player signed to a multi-year deal is about to become a very valuable asset.
I will stress that the money figures should be ignored for the most part this summer, instead look to the percentage of his team’s salary cap a player is earning. Last season, Rubio made about 19.1 percent of the Wolves salary cap. This season, that number will drop to around 14.2 percent of the team’s spending limit. That’s a big difference. 14.2 percent of the 2015-16 cap is $9.98 million. Anyone in their right mind would have happily paid Rubio that price for what he did last season. On the other end, 19.1 percent of this year’s cap will be a little over $18 million. So, if you’re like me and believe Rubio played to at least his contract value last season, you would gladly accept the near $5 million discount on Rubio for next season.
Lastly, the Wolves -- like every other NBA team -- will have a ton of money to spend this summer. While I would be hesitant to shell out big money over three years or more, I would be more than willing to pay (or overpay even) to get veterans to fill the biggest needs on the team. With the Wolves young core all under cheap contracts for the next two seasons and with the point guard position under control, the Wolves can focus on a small handful of players to peruse next week. Below is, in my mind, an ideal potential minutes rotation next season.
PG: Rubio (32) / Dunn (16)
SG: Lavine (34) / Dunn (10) / Wiggins (4)
SF: Wiggins (30) / Muhammad (18)
PF: Dieng (14) / FA? (24) Garnett/Bjelica (14)
C: Towns (34) Dieng (14)
According to basketball reference, the Wolves are about $34 million (not including Dunn’s rookie contract) under the projected $94 million salary cap for next season. My ideal offseason would start with pursuing Pau Gasol at around $35-40 million over two seasons. I don’t know if that would be overpaying or not, frankly I don’t really care. The Wolves don’t need that money until Wiggins and LaVine have to be paid. They could then use the remaining $8-10 million to sign a shooter to come off the bench. Having so many minutes already occupied by Rubio, LaVine and Dunn can allow the Wolves to pursue good players in free agency while being flexible with with a guy like Shabazz Muhammad. Going into next season with Jones, Adreian Payne and Nikola Pekovic as reserves and not guys with expected minutes would be ideal for Minnesota. Trading Rubio for pennies on the dollar and having to pay anything close to Rubio-level money for a downgrade point guard would compromise a lot of that flexibility.
Rubio may not be the long-term answer at point guard. Hell, Dunn might not be either. But for the short-term, the combination looks pretty good.