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Goodbye Ricky Rubio, Hello Jeff Teague: We’re Gonna be OK

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Some thoughts and feelings the morning after.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I won’t pretend I’m thrilled about yesterday’s exchange of Ricky Rubio for Jeff Teague (and a protected first round pick.) Anyone who has known me on this blog over the years knows how much I love Rubio and how much I wanted to see him stay with the Wolves and succeed with them.

Ultimately it wasn’t to be. If we’re honest, and I tried to be throughout this process, it was inevitable since Tom Thibodeau took the reins. He wanted someone else. This is not to his credit. Like everyone, he has mixed qualities, and ideas about how he wants things to go. He got us Jimmy Butler. And he sent away our Unicorn.

I have to admit, my initial sadness didn’t last long. Or, let me rephrase: I’m still sad, but sadness was not my primary emotion for more than a few minutes after hearing the news.

It was relief. This has been like an anvil hanging over our heads for more than a year. Something had to give. What wound up giving, I think, was Rubio himself. What changed Glen Taylor’s mind was Rubio accepting a trade, or at least this is what I believe. He was worn out. We were all worn out from worrying about this.

The anvil fell. And we’re still here. It isn’t a happy thing; I’ll miss Rubio a ton, for his ability, his style, his joy. But I still feel like a fan of the Timberwolves, and I still have hope going forward. They are going to be better. We’re going to watch some wins. And in truth, my mind is clearer. I no longer have to worry about a Rubio trade, I no longer have to imagine scenarios in which he stays, in which he goes. It’s done. The player for whom I felt an emotional connection is gone.

I’ll miss him. But I’m relieved the saga is over, for him as much as for all of us.

Frankly, Jeff Teague was not the guy I wanted when it came time to replace Rubio. Moving Rubio to go after Kyle Lowry made sense, beyond that I was never going to be thrilled.

And Teague’s reported contract structure is far from ideal. Presuming this is correct:

It costs the Wolves nearly $4 million in cap space right now as compared to keeping Rubio. Furthermore, as much as I’m a believer in power to labor (seize the means of production!) player options suck for teams. If things go well and you want to keep the player around, he’s going to opt out. If things go badly or he’s injured, he’s going to opt in. Player options mess with plans.

All of that said, Jeff Teague is not a bad basketball player. I don’t want my disappointment in this exchange to affect my judgment. Teague is a starting caliber point guard in the NBA, probably a roughly league average starter. This is generally how the catch-all metrics see him.

Offensively, he’s more of what Thibodeau wants, it appears. He isn’t a long-range bomber—35 percent career three-point shooter on relatively low volume. But he’s a better finisher at the rim than Rubio, and a consistently better shooter from mid-range (though don’t be fooled by his outlier good 2016-17 season from those distances.)

He can run a pick-and-roll though doesn’t have to be consistently the primary initiator of the offense (an important trait for Thibs, I believe, after acquiring Jimmy Butler.)

He is not the defender Rubio is, which given the troubles on that end this past season seems ominous. He also isn’t catastrophic on that end of the floor. Thibs clearly thinks he can build a good defense out of these guys, and that will be on him. His success or failure in Minnesota is going to be about whether he can fashion a contending quality defense.

He’s also not the passer Rubio is, of course, and he’s not our Unicorn.

But the Wolves can win with Jeff Teague. Their ultimate ceiling is unknown, but it’s possible to have a good team with Teague as the starting point guard. We’ve seen it throughout his career as he’s helmed successful teams, especially in Atlanta. Would I rather have Rubio, especially against some of the better point guards in the league? Yes, because I think he’s better able to offer resistance. But Jeff Teague is not a cipher.

The Wolves are going to be a better basketball team this season. Adding Jimmy Butler sees to that. Karl-Anthony Towns heading into his third year sees to that (hopefully.) Jeff Teague was not my first choice, but he isn’t going to do damage to the Wolves improvement.

The Wolves are going to win more, and winning is fun. It would be more fun with Ricky Rubio out there, but it’s still gonna be fun. And we’re gonna be here to talk about it. And argue about it. Like always.

In the end, we root for laundry. We like guys because of their game, because of the personalities they show us on the court. Rubio touched us in these ways. But we root for players because of the jersey they wear. The thing that makes this exercise worthwhile is the sense of community it brings us. It’s all of us. Together. Happy and sad. Thrilled (Butler!), angry (Rubio!) Wins and losses. Talking about it.

A little piece of the sky fell yesterday on Wolves fandom.

But it didn’t all come crashing down.

We’re gonna be OK.