Regardless of whether the Boston Celtics win the NBA championship, they will come away from this season believing they are ahead of schedule.
In many ways, that feeling would be right. Under Ime Udoka, the Celtics have flourished into one of the most dominant teams in the NBA, sweeping the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs to shock the basketball world. Brad Stevens has also done a fine job by ensuring Udoka has all the tools necessary to continue working towards a period of sustained success.
However, once the free agency period rolls around, the Celtics will need to take stock of their roster and decide on what areas could use some additional attention. Would an additional playmaker ease the pressure on Marcus Smart? Do Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum need a backup wing to lighten the scoring load? Stevens will have plenty of questions to ponder in the coming weeks and months.
According to Dan Favale of Bleacher Report, Stevens should already be looking to add an additional ball-handler, especially one who can penetrate and create offense for their teammates. In his article, Favale noted how the Celtics should be ambitious despite their limited cap space and listed Ricky Rubio as the team’s ideal off-season target.
“Dependable playmakers seldom cost under $7 million per year, but Rubio’s timeline for return remains unclear. He had surgery at the end of December. A nine-month recovery would put him back in September—right around training camp. The Celtics are among the potential suitors who can slow-play his integration. And while he wouldn’t do anything for their floor spacing, his passing on the move fits what they need, and his defensive activity fits what they’ve already built,” Favale reasoned in his article.
Boston Would be Buying Low
Ricky Rubio was quickly becoming an important part of the Cleveland Cavaliers rotation. They relied on his veteran presence, calmness on the ball, and impressive ability to find the right pass at the right time. Unfortunately, Rubio suffered a torn ACL midway through the season and never saw the floor again as he underwent surgery and then began to rehab.
Despite his clear talent and upside, the number of teams that are likely to show interest in acquiring Rubio this off-season projects to be slim. There’s a chance the veteran guard could miss the opening month to two of the season and then would need to be slowly ramped up to full speed – meaning no team would get the best version of him until January at the earliest. Of course, there’s also the chance Rubio recovers ahead of time and is back by mid-October; injuries are weird that way.
Regardless of when Rubio is projected to return, there’s no guarantee that he can reach his previous level or will be physically capable of working through a full NBA season without aggravating his injury. Luckily, ACL injuries are no longer considered to be career-ending. As Rubio was never reliant on athleticism or bursts of pace, there is every reason to believe he will reach his previous performance levels again in the upcoming series.
For the Celtics, or any other interested team, the uncertainty surrounding the veteran guard means he will be available at a discounted rate. The upcoming season will be a ‘prove yourself’ year for Rubio, and Boston could be the ideal situation for him to prove his fitness, contend for a championship, and earn a bigger contract in the summer of 2023.
What Does Rubio Bring to the Table?
Pass first point guards are slowly becoming obsolete in the NBA, as the league has shifted towards multi-skilled wings that can carry the burden of offensive initiation or guards that can create their own shot and set the table for others. However, despite their smaller numbers, point guards who can run an offense are still incredibly valuable around the league.
Despite his age (31), Rubio is arguably one of the best playmaking guards in the NBA, averaging 7.6 assists for his career. Of course, the biggest knock on the 11-year veteran is his limited three-point scoring (32.6% for his career) and subpar finishing from the field (38.9%). But Rubio has never been a scoring guard and provides value in his selfless style of play and defensive upside due to his six-foot-two frame and excellent lateral movement.
However, the Celtics don’t need Rubio to be a scorer; rather, they would utilize his passing ability to help create high-quality shots for their stars or bench players. This season, Marcus Smart has made enormous strides as a playmaking guard, but things can often get stagnant when he goes to the bench. So, having Rubio as a back-up would ensure Udoka’s drive and kick brand of offense continues to tick along while Smart catches his breath.
Ideally, Boston would look to strike a one-year deal with the veteran guard, with a veteran minimum contract being the most logical outcome for both parties. That would allow the Celtics additional breathing room to add an extra player via the MLE while vastly improving their bench unit.