In the transcript below, Josh Clement and Dane Moore debate the recent rumors about the Wolves pursuing a point guard in free agency and what that means for the Timberwolves. The following conversation has been lightly edited.
Josh Clement: So the NBA draft is in eight days and the new rumblings out there are that the Wolves are looking to pursue one of the point guard free agents of George Hill, Jeff Teague, or Jrue Holiday. The Wolves also will likely have the opportunity to draft yet another point guard. All of these things are, of course, bad for the Spanish Unicorn Ricky Rubio. It's always hard to figure out exactly what the plan is for Thibs and Layden Co., so we are left grasping at whatever straws are out there. This plan does float the idea though that the Wolves could trade Rubio and either try to go after a point guard in free agency or draft another point guard, as it is hard to see all those pieces fitting on the roster along with Ricky. What do you think?
Dane More: Oh, I can grasp for straws. That's what the NBA in the summertime is all about, right? Especially because, as you mentioned, the front office has been vacuum-sealed as far as rumblings go. All we have are straws to grasp.
Here are my point guard-related straws that I'm grasping;
1. I'm not ruling out a point guard in the draft.
With 5 of the 10 top prospects labeled as point guards (Fultz, Ball, Fox, Smith, Ntilikina) and Malik Monk, another undersized guard (6'3") also in the top-10 mix it would be silly to rule out point guard for a Wolves team that still needs to add talent above anything else.
The nugget I'm holding onto here is that I believe Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, and one of those six guards can all co-exist. At least for next season. This solace I have comes from the idea that Dunn can "get his" at the two guard. The second half of last season Dunn was exclusively playing with one of Rubio or Tyus Jones.
If the Wolves draft a guard--most likely Fox, Smith, or Monk--I think things will be okay. I believe the backcourt is full but malleable enough to make things work.
2. I think Rubio returns very little on the trade market.
As you pointed out a few weeks ago, Josh, Rubio is a middle-of-the-pack starting point guard.
I think this fact depresses his trade value. If the team trading for Rubio is doing so with the plan of starting him (likely) then there are only so many teams he could go to. Of those teams, I don't see one that is desperate enough to pay anything I would be comfortable with as compensation. A trade would likely leave me as underwhelmed as every rumored deal Rubio's name has ever been connected to.
3. If the Wolves have Rubio, why use the cap space on Hill, Teague, or Holiday?
If Hill, Teague, or Holiday are acquired in free agency, that is the end of the 2017 free agency for the Wolves.
But I'm not in charge. If there is credence to these rumors, what do those three point guards bring to the Wolves that the current guards do not?
Josh: Well you are right to point out that Rubio will likely not fetch much, or at least as much value as we would hope on the trade market. The current point guard landscape depresses Rubio's value significantly, as teams either have "their guy," or will be able to draft a prospect in this year's draft. The only teams that I think are real trade prospects are the Knicks, Nuggets, Spurs, or Mavericks, and none of those teams (other than Denver) have assets that worth getting excited about that could be moved.
As far as Teague, Hill, and Holiday are concerned, I get the rationale behind the idea. High pick-and-rolls have taken over the NBA as one of the most important offensive sets. The reason they are so dangerous is teams have a point guard, or some other player, who can shoot three-pointers off the dribble. The Wolves have one end of the equation figured out with Towns, as he would likely be one of the most dangerous rolling big men in the NBA, due to his ability to shoot, create shots for others, or attack the basket. Rubio, on the other hand, simply does not shoot three-pointers off the dribble. Of all his three-pointers last year, 95 percent were assisted, and that is pretty consistent throughout his career. That is a number that is more in-line with spot-up shooters rather than a player who has the ball in their hands.
Teague, Hill, and Holiday could likely be those lead guards who can do a lot of what Rubio does on offense and defense, but can also allow the Wolves to pressure a defense with these high pick-and-rolls. However, they will also likely cost about 10 million more than Rubio, and there is always the danger that you do not get any of them in free agency and you are stuck with some sort of Tyus Jones/Kris Dunn rotation and you just set the Wolves back two years.
So is it worth sacrificing continuity, 10 million dollars (or more), and Ricky Rubio to build up the Wolves' ability to run the pick-and-roll more effectively? It's not like the Wolves have been struggling on offense over the last two years. Or does this go back to the idea that Thibs has always preferred a scoring point guard?
Dane: I'd like to touch on the whole high pick and roll narrative and Rubio's skill set that does not maximize this action. I agree. Every time Rubio pulls off the dribble following a screen I cringe. As you pointed out, Rubio can not and does not shoot threes off the dribble. Last season, he made 5 total pull-up threes. However, Rubio did improve his pull-up game from within the arch. This past year he shot 45.2 percent on pull-up twos. He has not only improved his efficiency on these type of shots, but also his volume. In 2013-14, Rubio was 55-of-187 (29.4 percent) on pull-up twos. And this past season, that number increased to 113-of-250 (45.2 percent). While the value of that "long-two" is still questionable, his shot (even if off the dribble) has been consistently improving.
Rubio's shooting--pull-ups or catch and shoot--is going to continue to improve. He will never be the focal point in scoring for any offense, but he does not slow down the offense to a standstill. In my opinion, if the Wolves are looking to upgrade the point guard position (and pay $20 million per season) it should be a larger step forward than Rubio to Hill/Teague/Holiday. As you mentioned, Rubio has two years and $29 million remaining on his deal ($14.5 mil per season) and the rumored replacements are going to sign deals for $20-plus million per season. Those deals, also, will almost certainly be for longer than two years. An issue given the raises Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine are due.
But let's give these rumors some respect. If you had to see one of Hill, Teague, or Holiday in a Wolves jersey, who most intrigues you?
Josh: Jrue is the one I would want. He's 26, the same age as Rubio, and offers defense, playmaking, and three-point shooting. He will also hopefully cost a bit less than George Hill. Jeff Teague is kind of the "meh" of NBA point guards at this point, as he is about average at all the point guard duties across the board. Jrue would be a great fit though, he is a big point guard and would relieve a lot of the playmaking duties from Wiggins, as Jrue is certainly more of an offensive threat that Rubio is.
However, Jrue is certainly not as a great of a passer as Rubio, although there are probably only three players in the league who are, but one can certainly see the appeal of a Jrue-Towns pick-and-roll. I can't say I've looked into how well Jrue and Davis have played together, but I would imagine the Wolves' front office have certainly scouted this out. The Wolves could also try to sell Jrue on the fact that he would be running the show on a team that is just chock-full of young talent on the Wings. Jrue also can more likely play off-guard, as he has done so quite a few times in his career, which is sort of a need for a team that already has two back-up point guards that need to see the court. Which one would you focus on?
Dane: George Hill is currently the best point guard on that list. I think if you poll the 30 coaches in the NBA they say Jrue has more upside, because Hill has peaked, but that Hill is more impactful. That said, I'm firmly in the Jrue boat. The age is huge. I think all three players will be looking for four-year deals. That means for Hill, by year 4, he would be 35, Teague would be 33, and Holiday would be 30. These days, 35 is ancient. There were 28 total players in the NBA who were 35 or older this season. Many of which were Udonis Haslem, Metta World Peace, Nick Collison legacy type players. Odds are, by the end of Hills contract, he is a role player. Whereas Holiday could, theoretically, have not left his prime.
Can we hate on Jeff Teague for a little bit? Which tier did he fall in for your pg list? Are we sure Teague is a top-20 pg in the league? I'm struggling to get behind him at all in this activity that I'm forcing myself to get behind everything.
Josh: Teague would be the bad option. I agree on that, he fell in my “starters with deficiencies tier.” He would certainly only be the placeholder until Dunn is ready, assuming he ever is. I guess my last question is, are the Wolves demonstrably a worse team if they move on from Rubio, at least for next year? The only way I can think that is not the case is if they somehow move him for some sort of value, like Wilson Chandler and Denver's #13 pick, which Denver probably says no to, then go get Jrue Holiday in free agency.
Dane: In the Teague in place of Rubio scenario, I don't think Teague can be simply viewed as the "bridge point guard" to Dunn. This is because that deal would assume a short-term nature of Teague's contract. I would assume Teague and his agent will be pining for a long-term contract, my guess being four years, $80 million. I don't think Teague bites on a, say, two-year, $50 million deal when he can likely receive four years of security elsewhere. The only way I could possibly see the Wolves landing Teague on a short-term deal is to grossly overpay, say one year, $30 million (his max). That would be bad because, bye bye cap space forever.
I do think the Wolves are worse without Rubio next year. I just don't see a realistic trade partner that bolsters the Wolves roster given my understanding of Rubio's trade value. I see a Rubio-less path goes one of three ways.
1. Trade Rubio for a worse PG on a bigger salary-- The "Reggie Jackson."
2. Trade Rubio for young or future assets-- The "Future 1st and salary cap flotsam."
3. Trade Rubio for similar value at a different position-- The "Wilson Chandler."
1- Just bad. Rubio is inaccurately measured in his worth, a lesser PG comes in and that player's additional salary cuts into the Wolves available cap space. Barf.
2. This creates space to sign a Jrue Holiday. Nice. But if Holiday or a PG of similar caliber is brought in, then the cap space will also be gone. Even if Holiday is better than Rubio (debatable) there are no other free agents that can be brought in with cap space.
3. This move is more of a push, in my opinion. While Chandler is maybe a better fit given the rest of the roster, it leaves the Wolves with Jones and Dunn as the point guards. Jones/Dunn are a bigger hole than Gorgui Dieng currently presents at the power forward position that Chandler would slide into.
(If this was the first move in a sequence of moves, this could be the best option in better balancing the roster. A lot of loose ends there though.)
I think a fourth option of keeping Rubio is best. I personally subscribe to the notion that Rubio is a good "bridge point guard," himself. With keeping Rubio, the Wolves can dedicate all their cap space towards addressing the other (and more pressing) issues on the roster.
It's not that trading Rubio couldn't lead to a better season, I just find it to be far less likely. But yeah, if the Nuggets will give us 13 and Chandler for Rubio, sign me up.
Josh: So, once again, it seems like the point (pun not intended) that we have ended up upon is that it would be extremely hard to find an equivalent value for Ricky Rubio, either by trading him or bringing on another free agent. It only took us 2,000 words to get there.
That wraps it up. Hope this was an enjoyable read and we shall hopefully be doing more in the future!