By John Schmeelk
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Ian Begley from ESPN reported Monday night that the Timberwolves have reached out to the Knicks to express their interest in acquiring point guard Derrick Rose. It makes a certain amount of sense in that Tom Thibodeau is Rose’s former coach and might think he can get more out of him than other teams.
Begley had no further information about what the Wolves are offering for Rose, but did correctly note that they had previously been motivated to trade Ricky Rubio. After drafting Kris Dunn last year, he is seen as the team’s point guard of the future.
Looking at the salaries on the two teams, the only way a trade would ever likely work is if Rubio was involved in the trade. He is the Timberwolves’ most expensive player, making $13.55 million this season. There’s really no other realistic way for Minnesota to get close to Rose’s $21 million number to match the incoming and outgoing salaries in any such move. It also wouldn’t make a ton of sense for the Timberwolves to add another point guard while retaining both Rubio and Dunn.
So, for a moment, let’s assume that Rubio for Rose would be the basis for any trade between the Wolves and Knicks. Without knowing the other components of the deal, the only other way is to look at it is in a vacuum.
It’s a trade the Knicks probably should make, but one that is far from a no-brainer.
There’s a lot going for such a move. Rose would no longer be on the team, and the chance of him returning on a long-term deal this summer is slim to none. Classic addition by subtraction. Rubio is young, just turning 26 last October. His game should age gracefully. His salary is reasonable, averaging $14 million over the remaining 2½ years of his contract. He is a pass-first point guard (has averaged eight-plus assists in five of his six seasons) who will help Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez develop their games. He is also a good defensive point guard, ranking eighth at the position in defensive real plus-minus.
Here’s the bad: A trade like this would take the Knicks out of the running for any top-tier free agent this summer. The cap space they would have had from letting Rose walk would likely be gone. Rubio is a poor shooter. Really poor. His career shooting percentage is 37 percent — and 31 percent from behind the arc. He doesn’t finish near the rim well. He is a poor scorer by any measure.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Rubio is injury prone. He missed nearly 60 games in the 2014-15 season with an ankle injury, and played just 57 games in 2012-13 and 41 in 2011-12. Last year, he did play in 76 of 82 games, and he has only missed six games so far this season. Perhaps the injury bug is fading away, but it is still a risk.
The big question the Knicks have to ask themselves is, do they think they can do better than Rubio for the next two years at about $14.5 million per year in free agency this summer? There are a number of marquee free agents available, including Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague and George Hill. Which of these players would be interested in the Knicks? Of the ones who are, how much would they cost? Will the Knicks have enough cap space to afford any of these players? If the Knicks trade Carmelo Anthony this offseason, would they be an attractive destination for any of these players?
These are all difficult questions to answer. There is an upside to not making a deal for Rubio and rolling the dice in free agency. There is also a huge risk. Free agency is the unknown, while Rubio would be a certainty.
The Knicks have been burnt rolling the dice on free agency before, which is why Rubio might be the more prudent direction to go. He only has two years left on his contract without an exorbitant salary. He could even be considered an asset other teams would want. He would not be an unmovable albatross.
Of course, whatever else is included in the deal to make the numbers work could sway things one way or another. An additional second-rounder coming or going and the lengths of contracts of other players coming back to the Knicks could make it unworkable. Those details will be forthcoming if the deal becomes imminent.
But in a vacuum, acquiring Rubio for Rose would be a net-plus for the Knicks, and set them up better for the future. He is another young piece who would emphasize getting the most out of Porzingis and Hernangomez.
It’s hard not to sign up or that.
For all things Knicks and Giants, please follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk