In the modern NBA, you need a strong point guard to even have a chance to compete. Without one, you’re lost.
One of the top options set to come available this offseason in free agency is Utah Jazz floor general Ricky Rubio, who will receive a good amount of interest from teams lacking an adequate lead ball-handler. Rubio is coming off a season in which he averaged 12.7 points, 6.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 triples nightly on 40.4 percent shooting, and helped play an important role on a very good Utah team.
More than just the statistics, though, Rubio is known around the league as a great teammate who won’t complain about his role and will work hard on both ends of the floor every minute he’s in the game – and those traits will help greatly raise his stock as a free agent.
Below, we break down four potential free-agent landing spots for the Spanish maestro.
The Indiana Pacers, a team built to be a playoff contender for at least the foreseeable future, would make a lot of sense as a potential Rubio suitor for a variety of reasons.
For starters, their starting point guard of the last two years, Darren Collison, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, meaning they could have an opening at the lead-guard spot that will need filling. What’s more, while Collison was productive and efficient over his last two seasons as a Pacer, his most effective role on offense was that of a spot-up shooter. Indiana could use a point guard who can take over a larger portion of the offense, and allow Victor Oladipo to play off the ball more often than he has since 2017-18.
Rubio could be just that guy.
Additionally, with the rock in his hands more often, Rubio may be able to regain the form he had back in his Minnesota Timberwolves days, when he was one of the best playmakers in the league and a 9.0-plus-assist-per-game player.
The most enticing thing about Rubio for the Pacers is, though, the fact that he would come far cheaper than a lot of the other options they’ll find on the open market this summer. Indiana is projected to have over $40 million in cap space, and if they’re able to land a starter-level point guard, like Rubio, for around $10 million to $12 million annually, that’ll leave them with plenty of room to re-sign impending free agent wing Bojan Bogdanovic and big man Thaddeus Young, or use the leftover money to chase a big-name free agent.
Not only would Indiana be getting an upgrade at the lead-guard spot in Rubio, they’d be doing so at a very team-friendly price.
The Chicago Bulls have lacked above-average point-guard play since the Derrick Rose era ended, and one of their top priorities this summer should be to sign (or trade for, or draft) a player who can buck that trend. That’s no shot at Kris Dunn, but his inefficient play and low upside due to being 25 years old means that Chicago should look elsewhere for their lead guard of the future.
Rubio could be that guy.
He may not be a star, but Rubio is consistent if nothing else, knows how to adeptly run an offense, defends well and can distribute the rock around on the open floor. With athletes like Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter and Otto Porter on the wing and Rubio bringing the ball down, Chicago could form an effective fullcourt offense to help make up for their deficiencies in the halfcourt. And with someone reliable running point, the Bulls, who made a ton of progress late in the season after the addition of Porter, could start to turn the corner as a franchise, and begin heading back to relevancy.
A problem could arise if Chicago ends up in the Top-3 of the lottery (lottery odds give them the highest chance of landing the No. 4 pick), which would give them a solid chance of having a shot at drafting Murray State point guard Ja Morant. Regardless, Morant is just 19 years old, and could stand to come off the bench for a season or two and learn from Rubio, someone who is known to be a great teammate.
Rubio isn’t an All-Star and won’t turn the Bulls into a playoff team overnight, but his addition could be a savvy one, and really help out the team as a whole, both on the court and off it.
Rubio may not be an All-NBA talent, but compared to some of the point-guard play the Phoenix Suns have gotten over the past few years, he may as well be.
The combination of De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo were brutally ineffective in 2018-19, to the point that the Suns, despite having Devin Booker literally post a 26.6/4.1/6.8 campaign, boasted the league’s third-worst offense according to offensive rating, ahead of just the Bulls and New York Knicks. Of course, the two young ball-handlers were just rookies, and still have decent upside, so it’s not like Phoenix should just throw in the towel on them. But if the Suns want the tandem to develop, they need to find a veteran point guard for them to share the locker room with, someone who could play 25-30 minutes a night, and teach them the ways of the NBA floor general.
Rubio would be a fantastic candidate for that role.
Additionally, over the past two seasons, Rubio has learned how to be effective without the ball in his hands, so he wouldn’t need to take too many possessions away from the insanely productive Booker, either, and stymie his development.
The Spaniard could be a great teacher for Phoenix’s young guards, help give the Suns’ offense a boost and wouldn’t be overly expensive to sign; all in all, this fit makes a lot of sense.
Judging by Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey’s end-of-year press conference, it doesn’t sound like Rubio will be back with the Jazz next season:
And for what it’s worth, it appears like Rubio expects to be playing elsewhere next year as well (via the Desert News):
“Rubio had nice things to say about the Jazz, but didn’t show any confidence that he’ll be playing in Utah next year. ‘A lot of friends ask me, but I don’t have any idea where I’m going to go,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of things that depend on (whether other teams) are going to need a point guard or not. When free agency comes, I can start thinking and see where I can go. One thing I’m going to look for sure is going to be the best situation for me with the coach and the team. I want to be happy, I’m going to try to find the best situation for me to be me and be happy.'”
Rubio also mentioned feeling hurt when his name popped up in trade rumors last February.
Nevertheless, Rubio has performed well overall with Utah, head coach Quin Snyder has spoken glowingly about him and he’s beloved by his teammates, so we can’t totally rule out him re-signing with the Jazz this summer. But at the same time, we also have a lot of signs, including the team’s behavior at the trade deadline, to show that Utah might hunt for an upgrade at the point-guard position this summer.
If they’re able to find one, Rubio’s odds of returning go from slim to none.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.