The Clippers enter the week of the NBA trade deadline with a pretty clear goal: Find a two-way point guard who can help the team get past its major weakness, fourth-quarter play. Overall, the Clippers have been a solid team, but the propensity for late-game collapses has driven the recent span of eight losses in 14 games, with L.A. seeking ballhandling help to address the problem.
The best answer might well be in Minnesota, where ball-moving, defense-minded point guard Ricky Rubio is very much on the market. Rubio is averaging only 8.7 points, a career-low, and is making only 32.4% of his 3-point attempts, but he is averaging 6.7 assists in 26.1 minutes.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported this week that the Clippers have engaged with the Timberwolves on talks for Rubio, who is in demand. He has also been linked to Orlando, and could be part of a bigger trade involving the Magic’s Aaron Gordon.
Rubio Found Shooting Rhythm Lately
Still, Rubio is a target who makes good sense for the Clippers. His numbers have lagged this year, but that was, in part, to a terrible start he got off to after he was traded to Minnesota in the offseason. The young Timberwolves were a mess under coach Ryan Saunders and have not improved much with the midseason change to Chris Finch.
But Rubio has improved individually. In his last 16 games, he is averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 assists, with 41.0% 3-point shooting. He addressed that improvement last week.
“I think it’s rhythm, I think it’s finding when and how to shoot within the system of the team,” Rubio said, according to the Pioneer Press. “Knowing when to be aggressive, especially for a point guard that likes to really organize everybody. Sometimes I get lost out there, not thinking about my shot, and then I take it when it’s either too late or not in a rhythm. But now I feel like in a rhythm in the system and on the fly where I feel confident enough to shoot the ball at a high clip.”
Trade Package for Rubio Difficult to Assemble
Of course, the difficulty for the Clippers is putting together a suitable package for Rubio, especially if they’re competing against a deal that revolves around Gordon, a player the Wolves have coveted.
Because of their obligations to the Thunder stemming back to the Paul George trade, the Clippers are not able to trade a first-round pick. They do have a deep cache of second-round picks, including all of their own going forward, plus a second-rounder from Portland in 2023 and all of Detroit’s second-rounders from 2024-26.
Rubio’s salary—$17 million this year and $17.8 million next year—is difficult for the Clippers to match, especially because they are up against the hard cap and can’t take back more salary than they send out. A deal for Rubio would likely cost the Clippers Patrick Beverley, another veteran player (Ivica Zubac, Lou Williams) and a young prospect like Terance Mann or Daniel Oturu.
That could be too steep a price. But for a Clippers team desperate to change its late-game fortunes, it may be necessary.