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NBA Saturday: No Love for Ricky Rubio?

In light of recent trade rumors, it’s clear Ricky Rubio is undervalued in Minnesota, writes Jesse Blancarte

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Earlier this week, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves are actively shopping point guard Ricky Rubio in trade discussions with other NBA teams. Rubio, age 26, was drafted fifth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Timberwolves and has played in Minnesota since the 2011 season. While Rubio entered the NBA as a top-tier point guard prospect, he has seemingly fallen short of expectations and has fallen out of favor in Minnesota.

It seems like Rubio has been available in trade discussions for a significant period of time despite the fact that he is one of the most effective point guards in the NBA — though he does have some notable limitations. Rubio is averaging 7.9 points, 8.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 24.4 percent from beyond the arc. These numbers are below Rubio’s career averages and his shooting, in particular, has been very problematic this season. However, Rubio has picked up his play recently.

Over his last seven games, Rubio is averaging 11.1 points, 11.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. Rubio has shown more energy and enthusiasm in recent games, which seemed non-existent earlier this season. Rubio’s poor shooting has been a major hindrance in his personal development and is a nightly challenge for the Timberwolves. But it seemed as though Rubio’s poor shooting had affected other aspects of his game earlier this season. Rubio seems to be moving past this and is starting to perform at his usual level.

Over the years, Rubio has established himself as one of the league’s best defensive point guards. Rubio has the size, length and intelligence to defend just about every point guard in the NBA and to occasionally switch onto bigger opponents as well. In a league saturated with scoring point guards, this is a significant asset and one that is underappreciated. Rubio is also one of the best players in the league at jumping passing lanes and turning defense into easy offense. Additionally, he jumps passing lanes in a selective, responsible way and does not take the reckless gambles that leave his team’s defense exposed. Whether he is leading a fast break or throwing a full-court pass to a streaking teammate, Rubio frequently produces free baskets for the Timberwolves.

Rubio is not the most dynamic offensive point guard in the NBA, but his vision, passing and selflessness help him facilitate an effective offense. His poor shooting cramps the court at times, especially against the smarter defensive teams that can exploit this weakness, but on most nights, Rubio more than makes up for this with smart passes and timely off-ball cuts to the basket.

Despite his notable talents, it is fair to scrutinize Rubio’s injury history. Rubio tore his ACL and lateral collateral ligament in March of 2012. He would go on to sign a four-year $56 million extension with the Timberwolves in October of 2014 but severely sprained his ankle less than two weeks later. Rubio was sidelined for three months, briefly returned to action, but ended up undergoing surgery for his injured ankle in April of 2015. In short, Rubio has dealt with significant injuries throughout his time in the NBA and often plays through nagging injuries that limit him.

Despite Rubio’s recent surge, it seems the Timberwolves still want to move in a different direction. Minnesota’s front office is banking on the idea that Kris Dunn, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, is the team’s point guard of the future. Dunn, who will turn 23 in March, is averaging 3.8 points, 2.3 assists, 2.1 rebounds and one steal per game while shooting 37.6 percent from the field. Dunn played four years of college ball at Providence and significantly improved over his junior and senior seasons. However, Dunn doesn’t seem to have the same upside that most point guards feature when they are being groomed to be a team’s long-term solution. Dunn has shown flashes of significant impact on both ends of the court, but he has also been particularly underwhelming for large stretches this season – especially for a player that spent four years in college. This may be problematic for the Timberwolves considering they are looking for a guard in exchange for Rubio who can take over in the short-term and hand the starting position over to Dunn over time, according to Wojnarowski. Oddly enough, Rubio would seem to already be a guard who could do just that.

Rubio’s contract is guaranteed through 2018-19 at an average annual salary of $14,250,000. This is a very reasonable annual salary for a starting-quality point guard in the aftermath of last year’s salary cap increase – which notably will go up even more after this season. For context, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Luol Deng to a four-year, $72 million contract last offseason. Deng has had a nice career but it was apparent that age and a lot of mileage have limited him in recent seasons. Nevertheless, Deng was able to secure a nice haul in free agency, along with several other players that would have settled for much less just a few years ago. Mid-tier free agents have recently, and likely will continue to lock in contracts that pay out roughly $15 million per season. Considering this, Rubio’s contract is very reasonable, if not a bargain.

However, it seems as though the Timberwolves may be interested in more than just a guard who can hand the keys to Dunn in a season or two. Marc Stein of ESPN reported earlier this week that Stan Van Gundy, head coach and president of the Detroit Pistons, had discussions with Minnesota about trading Reggie Jackson for Rubio.

Van Gundy subsequently confirmed that there were discussions, but that he would not be making the reported deal.

“I texted Reggie and just said, ‘This is a crazy season, and we’re not trading you for Ricky Rubio,'” Van Gundy told reporters on Saturday.

“That was it. I don’t normally address it, but the fact that it was out there and it concerned his agent [Aaron Mintz] enough to call, I addressed it. ‎

“I’m not denying that the discussion took place — they take place all the time. But that’s a lot different than consideration. And clearly, we didn’t make that move.”

Jackson is arguably one of the more talented point guards in the league, despite not playing particularly well this season. He’s not on the level of players like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul, but he isn’t a stopgap solution either. It makes sense that Minnesota would be looking for a player of Jackson’s caliber in exchange for their current starting point guard.

Whether the Timberwolves move Rubio this season or not, it seems as though his value on the court and reasonable contract are being undervalued in Minnesota. Dunn may end up being a starting-caliber point guard, but he isn’t right now. With this in mind, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Timberwolves should either reconsider their decision to shop Rubio or hold off for a deal that returns something more than a stopgap solution at point guard.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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