IM GEHRZ • JGEHRZ@STARTRIBUNE.COM
The trade deadline is about 24 hours away and the main swirls of trade rumors have been around Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad for the Wolves. There have been rumors that the Wolves are listening to offers for Rubio but that he is going nowhere by tomorrow (it would make for an awkward Ricky Rubio Bobblehead night on Saturday). Several teams have reached out to the Wolves with strong interest in Shabazz Muhammad as well. While nothing looks plausible at this point, the summer will possibly present some new possibilities.
There are many micro and macro reasons why I expect the Wolves to trade Rubio and Bazz this summer. Lets start with the macro.
The league is moving towards a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in which the Salary Cap is going to rise a significant amount. A majority of the league will then be under the salary cap which means there will be a lot more flexibility with trades. Contrary to how teams approach the trade deadline, many teams will be exploring new strategies and looking to refresh their lineup. Typically during the trade deadline, deals are done by teams either in sell-mode or buy-mode. The summer is a more open canvas, especially with the salary cap increase.
Speaking of canvases, the Wolves seem to have an outline to a master piece without an artist to finish it. Flip laid the groundworks of a future championship contender and the Wolves don’t currently have the decision-makers in place to make deals to build around Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine. Chances are, the GM and Coach are for the Wolves this coming summer will have some major decisions to make. This team can start competing next season.
The biggest decision will come around Ricky Rubio. Personally, I think trading Ricky Rubio would be the biggest mistake this team can make. Outside of Towns, Ricky gives this team the biggest chance to win. His shooting woes seem to be overly-magnified as he makes everyone around him better. But the Wolves may take a different direction this summer. There are, what are perceived as, decent point guard prospects in the draft in Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray. The Wolves may look to add a solid back up point guard in Free Agency and try to play LaVine at the starting point guard position. I think either of these would be huge mistakes.
The only way I would be comfortable with moving Rubio this summer is through a trade that brought a better point guard to the team, maybe an Eric Bledsoe? I would imagine if Rubio is traded, the Wolves would try to bring in a point guard that fits better with their young core. This could be done with pairing Rubio with a guy who has some trade value, like Shabazz Muhammad.
Speaking of Shabazz – what is going to happen with him? As the season has played out, his ceiling with the Wolves is looking like a 6th man type of player. There is definitely an opportunity elsewhere where his role could be bigger. The tipping point though is his contract situation. Bazz will move into the final year of his Rookie Scale contract and will be eligible for a contract extension this summer into next season, if the Wolves choose to do so.
The Wolves will need to do some soul searching here. Gorgui Dieng will be in the same situation as Shabazz, but all signs point towards the Dieng getting an extension. He has played well alongside Towns and continued to improve his game. In the 2017 summer, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine will also be eligible for contract extensions. The summer after that, the Wolves will also look to lock in Karl-Anthony Towns. As flexibility is important when it comes to cap space, Shabazz may need to be traded while he still has some value and isn’t lost for nothing in free agency.
Looking forward to the summer, Muhammad will likely be used as a deal sweetener. Whether he is added to a deal that moves Rubio or as a piece that is dealt with to move up/ down the draft boards, Muhammad will likely be used to enhance a deal to favor the Wolves. Shabazz will be a low-risk, high-reward type of player who will be in the final year of their contract for a team and can be brought back if a team likes what they see in Shabazz.
I would hate to see Shabazz leave. He seems like the kind of player that has a significant role player-role on a contending team that can have series changing games. Unfortunately, his shooting hasn’t developed into what the Wolves need and neither has his defense. For those reasons, it has been hard to play him alongside Wiggins for long stretches of time.
The Wolves would be doing an injustice if they didn’t capitalize on Shabazz’s value this summer by adding another asset better suited for their young core. I still hope that the Wolves can figure out how to use Rubio still, but it may be time to part ways and add a piece that can benefit the Wolves long term as well. The trade rumors have started now as the trade deadline approaches. And while the Wolves will more than likely not make a trade by tomorrow, this summer could be a lot different.
The Timber Rebuilder.