Timberwolves stand pat at the deadline

Published 10:15 am Friday, February 24, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — Ricky Rubio is a veteran of the NBA trade deadline, having seen his name surface in rumors several times over the last few years. As experienced as he has been with handling the situation, this time felt a little different.

His Minnesota Timberwolves had conversations with several teams, perhaps most notably with the New York Knicks as the deadline approached Thursday afternoon. In the end, the Wolves decided not to trade their point guard for Derrick Rose, meaning they will make their push for the eighth seed in the Western Conference with Rubio as their starter.

“As pros, we know what’s the deal. But yeah, this time felt a little different,” Rubio said Thursday. “It’s all rumors. Until it doesn’t go down, you don’t believe it.”

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Wolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau said the team never got very close to making a move with Rubio or anyone else. But when asked if he felt compelled to talk to Rubio after the harried couple of days of rumors, Thibodeau said he had no plans to seek that out.

“You’re expected to be professional,” Thibodeau said. “Everyone has a job to do. Come in, do your job. You can’t get lost in the other stuff. That’s what the expectations are.”

Rubio said he understands the team is obligated to consider trades of all kinds in an effort to improve the team, but it was clear that he still was hoping for some kind of dialogue from Thibodeau, GM Scott Layden or someone else in the front office.

“We’re professionals, but we’re human beings, too,” Rubio said. “We have feelings. But I know this is a business and it has to be like that.”

In his six seasons with the Timberwolves, Rubio has seen his name reported in trade possibilities under previous coaches Flip Saunders and Sam Mitchell, but never as often as he has this season under Thibodeau. When Thibodeau coached the Chicago Bulls, he became known for preferring point guards who were threats to score, like Rose, D.J. Augustin and Nate Robinson. Rubio is a pass-first point guard and a career 37 percent shooter.

When Thibodeau made point guard Kris Dunn the fifth overall draft pick last June, many figured that it marked the end of Rubio’s run in Minnesota. Dunn has proven to be a dogged defender, but has been slower to develop on the offensive side. He is shooting 36.3 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from 3, both significantly worse than Rubio this season.

And after struggling to adapt to Thibodeau’s system through the first month of the season, Rubio is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He is averaging 11.9 points, 10.6 assists and 1.9 steals over the last 19 games and has shown an improved mid-range jumper.

The Wolves could have made a move with Rubio on Thursday, sending him to the Knicks for Rose, who is in the final year of his contract. Letting him walk in free agency would have given the Wolves even more cap space and allowed a natural transition to Dunn, if they felt he was ready to take over. But the Wolves decided not to pull the trigger, believing that holding on to Rubio gave them the best chance to try to chase down a playoff spot this season. They are 3 1/2 games behind Denver for the eight seed.

“If something made sense, we would have done it,” Thibodeau said. “But it had to make sense and make us better. If it didn’t, just be patient, continue to work.”

The Wolves host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, and now Rubio must refocus on playing in Minnesota and helping Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest of the young Wolves try to end a 12-year playoff drought.

“I believe this team can make the playoffs and we can make a push,” Rubio said. “We’ve been working hard all year long. We didn’t start the season the way we wanted, but we’ve been making a run lately and we just have to keep pushing.”