The Utah Jazz are open for business.
Don’t take our word for it. Instead, listen to veteran reporter Sam Amick of USA Today, who recently joined the HoopsHype podcast, on the matter.
According to Amick, Utah is looking to make moves with the future – primarily Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell’s primes – in mind.
“My understanding of Utah’s situation is that they’re as much of an open shop as there is in the league right now. Whether it’s Derrick Favors or Rodney Hood or even Ricky Rubio, they want to turn the page. They want to maximize Rudy Gobert’s prime. … Utah is going to look at everything right now. They obviously don’t feel like they have their core and they’re trying to figure things out. But yeah, I think Rodney gets moved. I think Derrick will draw decent interest. And the Rubio one, I didn’t know what to make of it. But if they are truly open to parting ways with Ricky, I think he’d have a good market too.”
Apart from Rodney Hood, as Amick also alluded to, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Rubio garner the most interest among available Jazz players.
Admittedly, Rubio’s assists are way down and he has struggled mightily this season to find his way in head coach Quin Snyder’s system, which is heavily dependent upon shot creation from the wings, as opposed to from the traditional lead guard spot.
Nevertheless, the Spaniard is still currently posting the second-highest effective-field goal and third-best true shooting percentage of his career.
And although most contenders are set at the all-important point guard position, there is a number of mid-tier teams who could use his services, despite the subpar season he’s having.
No, Rubio hasn’t developed into the star many thought he’d become. But he’s still just 27 years old and could be a formidable floor general in the right situation.
He was able to prove just that as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2013-14 to 2015-16, the three-year stretch when Minnesota outscored opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions with its starting point guard in the game.
So without question, there would be a good amount of interest in Rubio on the trade market. We present three teams whose fit with the veteran point guard would make the most sense, and what those teams could offer Utah in return for him.
New York Knicks
The fit between the New York Knicks and Rubio is obvious: The former lack competent point guard play while the latter is just that… a competent point guard.
Perhaps if the Knicks were set on rebuilding, the need for a floor general wouldn’t be as important since they have a rookie point guard to groom in Frank Ntilikina. But in the month of January, the French ball-handler is playing fewer than 19 minutes nightly and has seen his leash even further shortened after New York’s acquisition of Trey Burke.
Burke has been surprisingly effective (averaging 18 points and seven assists over his past two outings), but Rubio would still present a massive upgrade at the position. His ability to dish the rock out of the pick-and-roll would mesh wonderfully with Kristaps Porzingis’ picking-and-popping and Enes Kanter’s intimidating rim dives, and he could also play the role of mentor to the 19-year-old Ntilikina.
However, it’s nearly impossible to find a trade that matches financially if we solely include New York and Utah. So to get this deal done, we’re going to need to involve a third party.
Enter: the Chicago Bulls.
Chicago has one player in particular who is both available and rumored to be on the Jazz’s radar, and that’s Nikola Mirotic. The Montenegrin big man is currently enjoying the best season of his career, averaging 17.1 points and 6.4 rebound per contest while hitting 42.9 percent of his triples. He is the absolute perfect fit at power forward next to Utah’s behemoth at the 5, as he would space the floor for Gobert rim-dives while his lack of rebounding and paint defense would be masked by the French seven-footer.
In return for sending their stretch-4 to the Jazz, the Bulls could be enticed by a package of Courtney Lee, whose knockdown shooting would go nicely playing off the ball from Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, and perhaps a lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick from Utah.
New York would certainly miss Lee’s off-ball shooting, but with Tim Hardaway Jr back from injury and Doug McDermott knocking down 40.8 percent of his attempts from deep this season, that could be enough to cover for his departure.
In the end, this theoretical move would be a win for all three parties: The Knicks get their competent point guard, the Jazz get their frontcourt partner for Gobert and the Bulls get a solid wing, as well as a premium asset.
Final package: New York Knicks get Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz get Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls get Courtney Lee and a lottery-protected 2018 first-rounder
Although their need at the 1-spot isn’t as dire as New York’s, the Indiana Pacers – who currently sit precariously at the No. 8 spot in the East – could use an upgrade at the position.
Although the fit between the Spaniard and the All-Star Oladipo isn’t perfect, the two boast traits that may aid them in finding basketball synergy.
According to Synergy Sports, the Pacers 2-guard is creating 1.07 points per possession (PPP) on spot-up opportunities, a mark healthy enough to place him in the 69th percentile. He’s also in the 74th percentile (1.40 PPP) as a cutter.
That means, during possessions where Rubio is the primary ball-handler, Oladipo’s prowess on the wing should help the offense keep humming.
On the less glamorous side of things, Rubio owns the league’s third-highest steal rate (3.3 percent) since he entered the league in 2011-12. For a Pacers team that ranks 11th in transition efficiency (per Synergy), Rubio’s ability to swipe away possessions could help them break into the Top 7 or 8 of the open-floor play type, thus improving their offensive marks overall.
In return for their starting floor general, the Pacers could send Utah their own: Darren Collison. The UCLA product is enjoying a solid campaign, but his fit with the Jazz is more natural than Rubio’s, simply for the fact he’s an elite spot-up shooter.
Utah likes to create a lot of their offense through the wings, which is exactly why Rubio hasn’t panned out for them. Collison, on the other hand, is experienced in that very role; for the season, he’s producing 1.17 PPP when shooting with his feet set, good to place him in the NBA’s 85th percentile.
Along with Collison, the Pacers could also package their 2018 second-round pick, but with the caveat that it would only transfer it falls between picks 45-60. (At the moment, if it falls between selections 31-44, it would belong to the Brooklyn Nets.)
Indiana is likely to make the playoffs this season anyway, so that potential transferal shouldn’t be a problem.
The fit between Utah and Collison makes sense, and his acquisition would also mean they wouldn’t have to feed rookie guard Mitchell the bulk of his minutes on the ball, just in case he’s not ready for the full-time load. The Jazz would also get a decent asset out of the trade, while Indiana gets a true floor general to pair with their star shooting guard.
Final package: Darren Collison and a 31-44 protected 2018 second-round pick
Along with the Jazz, one of the teams expected be big-time sellers at the upcoming trade deadline are the Orlando Magic. According to the New York Times, just about all of their young pieces are available for the right price:
“Rival executives expect Jeff Weltman, Orlando’s new team president, to aggressively hunt for new homes for the likes of Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja, given that Nikola Vucevic’s broken finger is likely to preclude dealing the center.”
Makes sense, considering they’re under new management who probably don’t feel all that attached to the last regime’s players. As such, a couple of staples of Magic basketball over the past few seasons may find themselves wearing new colors in a couple of weeks.
The name who is of most interest for our exercise is Evan Fournier. Despite Orlando’s struggles this year, the French swingman is having a solid season, posting averages of 18.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists nightly while slashing healthy 45.8/38.9/89.2 shooting splits.
Because of his ability to knock down jumpers and create for others from the wing, his fit with the Jazz is nearly perfect. Though Utah has a similar player in Hood, Fournier has been far more consistent throughout his career.
A Fournier-for-Rubio swap works financially, but it would leave the Jazz thin at point guard.
So to make the transaction more feasible in a basketball sense, Orlando could add veteran floor general DJ Augustin to the deal, who is still proving to be effective in his age-30 campaign. To tie things up, Utah could add Alec Burks and give the Magic more wing depth. Burks is having the second-best season of his career as he finally looks to be past the injury woes that used to trouble him.
Although Orlando may not want to pay Burks the $11.5 million he is owed next season, that’s far less than what they owe Fournier, who is signed for another two seasons after this one, and has another $34 million left on his contract, provided he doesn’t opt into his 2020-21 season. If he does, he’s actually owed another three years and $51 million.
Regardless, if any team could get the 6-foot-7 wing to reach his full potential, it’s Snyder and the Jazz. He’s a legitimate perfect fit for they want in their off-ball players – a poor man’s version of Gordon Hayward.
Meanwhile, Orlando gets a point guard for the short-term future, and if they end up becoming enamored with his dime-dishing, ball-swiping prowess, they also get his Bird Rights, making it easier to re-sign him for the long haul after next season.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.