NBA Trade Scenarios: How the Ricky Rubio Injury Changes Minnesota's Trade Plans

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2012

NBA Trade Scenarios: How the Ricky Rubio Injury Changes Minnesota's Trade Plans

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    With star rookie Ricky Rubio out for the season thanks to an untimely torn ACL, the Minnesota Timberwolves have only a few days to determine how they'll make due in his absence.

    The Timberwolves may not be in as much trouble as they appear at first glance, but optimism alone is little consolation to fans looking for their team to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

    Minnesota's playoff chances have always been a bit of a long shot. Currently, the team is a game-and-a half out of the eighth seed and has stiff competition from other hopefuls like Portland, Phoenix and Utah (not to mention the teams currently seeded one through eight). The Western Conference is deep, and while Minnesota's future is unquestionably bright, there are huge questions about where this team is right now.

    Nevertheless, the Timberwolves have looked like a playoff team at times, and it would be premature to write this club off—even without Rubio. 

    Here are four options the Timberwolves have going forward.

Maintain the Status Quo

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    A number of pundits have already suggested that the Timberwolves would be wise to stand pat. At the very least, this organization shouldn't do anything that jeopardizes its long-term prospects.

    After all, this is a team built around Kevin Love, Derrick Williams and Rubio. The oldest—Love—is only 23.

    Minnesota also had a deep backcourt to begin with. Luke Ridnour has started nearly all of the Timberwolves' games this year, and while he doesn't have Rubio's sensational passing ability, he is a natural point guard. On the season, Ridnour is averaging 11.5 points and 3.8 assists. With Rubio out, he's likely to become more of a facilitator and could rediscover the kind of production he exhibited earlier in his career with the Seattle Sonics.

    Additionally, J.J. Barea will soon return, giving the Timberwolves a dynamic point guard with valuable playoff experience.

    While Ridnour and Barea are serviceable options at the point, fears persist that Minnesota will dearly miss Rubio's uncanny ability to make all those around him better. However, the Timberwolves were already the sixth worst team in the league at getting their baskets via assists—a trend that's bound to continue with the likes of Michael Beasley on board. Even without Rubio, that trajectory can't get much worse.

    Adelman can make adjustments and utilize this team's relatively deep stable of talent. In Minnesota's first game without Rubio, guard Wayne Ellington played almost 26 minutes off the bench and scored 12 points. Ridnour logged almost 43 minutes and had 14 points and 10 assists to show for it.

    Until Martell Webster and Wes Johnson find better consistency, Timberwolves' fans will be in store for some disappointment. This team's youth is exponentially more glaring without Rubio running the show. But, teams do adapt, and Minnesota's front court is increasingly one of the best in the league.

    There are worst things than staying the course. 

Go All in on Jamal Crawford

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    Even before Rubio's injury, Minnesota had been rumored to be in on Portland's shooting guard Jamal Crawford.

    The Timberwolves were ostensibly interested in adding a scoring threat on the wing and adding a slightly longer body to an otherwise small backcourt. Without Rubio, the need for that size becomes all the more pressing—Barea stands at 6' 0'' even, and Ridnour is only 6' 2''.

    Crawford also has some experience at the point and could give Minnesota a versatile combo-guard option capable of playing big minutes.

    While Wesley Johnson could spend more time in the backcourt, Adelman seems to prefer playing him at small forward in lieu of Michael Beasley or Derrick Williams. If Beasley is moved prior to the trade deadline, Johnson will become all the more essential to Minnesota's front-court rotation.

    Crawford's ability to create his own offense has made him a standout sixth-man in the past. Without Rubio's dynamic passing, a self-starter like Crawford would be a useful asset.

    Crawford has a player-option in his contract for next season, making him a potential short-term rental for a team dealing with a catastrophic injury. He could elect to stick around and lend the Timberwolves a veteran presence as they ascend in the Western Conference; or, he could go elsewhere and give GM David Kahn some money to work with in the upcoming free agency.

    The problem with acquiring Crawford (and it could be a big problem) is that Portland is more than likely to seek a point guard to replace the failed Raymond Felton experiment. With a healthy Rubio, Ridnour seems to be the likely trade chip. Without Rubio, Ridnour obviously becomes less expendable.

Make a Small Deal

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    While the Lakers have been linked to the Cavaliers' Ramon Sessions, there's certainly no reason to believe that Cleveland has decided what to do with its backup point guard.

    Sessions has averaged over 10 points and five assists in limited action with the Cavaliers, and at 6' 3'' he would give Minnesota good backcourt size and depth alike. Like Crawford, Sessions has a player-option for next season (at $4.5 million) and makes for an ideal rental.

    Teams have also been talking to Toronto about Jose Calderon, and it's no secret that Raymond Felton could be had. Calderon (who sprained his ankle Saturday) is set to make $10.5 million next season, and Portland would almost certainly look for a point guard in exchange for Felton. Neither option makes much sense as a short-term fix. 

    Even acquiring Sessions could be tricky. The Cavaliers would probably look for either a first-round pick or young talent, and it's unclear that the up-and-coming Timberwolves are interested in parting with those kinds of assets.

Make a Not-so-Small Deal

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    There's no question that the Timberwolves have a number of young assets. Some are more desirable than others, but it wouldn't be too difficult for Minnesota to build a package that might fetch them someone like Monta Ellis or even—ironically—O.J. Mayo.

    Any deal of such magnitude would probably have to start with Michael Beasley, and that could be an uphill battle for the Wolves' brass. If it is true that Los Angeles rejected Minnesota's request for a first-round pick in exchange for Beasley, you have to wonder how bad the market really is for this guy.

    Still, perhaps Los Angeles simply wants to preserve its flexibility (in terms of cap and available assets) so that it can pursue other deals. There's no denying that Beasley can score and has some skills to build around. His size and versatility could be attractive to teams like the Warriors or Grizzlies, especially with Zach Randolph still out in Memphis.

    Minnesota would probably have to sweeten any deal for big talent, however. You'd have to think Golden State would want some combination of Wes Johnson, Anthony Randolph and draft picks before letting go of Ellis. Similarly, Memphis probably doesn't want to lose its sixth man without getting a serviceable guard in return.

    If the Timberwolves could get this kind of deal done, they'd improve their near-term postseason odds without sacrificing long-term growth. If Beasley isn't part of Minnesota's long-term plans, Kahn might as well look for that second or third option to complement All-Star Kevin Love.

    Reality is rarely so convenient, of course. It wouldn't be surprising to see a quiet trade deadline in Minnesota, as frustrating as that may be for a team so clearly on the cusp of something more.