It's nearly a footnote in a very thorough article about the Wizards and Timberwolves trade reported Tuesday. ESPN's Ric Bucher, Andy Katz and the Associated Press all contributed. And included was this:
There is a strong possibility that Oklahoma City will select Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio at No. 3, according to sources. If Sacramento then took Evans at No. 4, the Wolves could get Arizona State guard James Harden.
A source with direct knowledge of Oklahoma City's situation told Katz that the Thunder are working on the details of Rubio's buyout. NBA teams can pay up to a maximum of $500,000 to free players from overseas contracts, but the Thunder want to ensure things go smoothly.
Now consider that the Thunder drafted a point guard not unlike Rubio (plays good D and can't score efficiently) last year, and he is pretty good. And recently ESPN the Magazine asked Russell Westbrook about sliding to shooting guard to play next to Rubio. His response?
Westbrook said he wants the Thunder to take James Harden. And he is expressing what a lot of basketball people think. It's hard enough to find a place on the court for one wing who can't shoot. How could you possibly win with two?
Before laughing off the idea entirely, let's consider:
If there's one thing I believe about Thunder GM Sam Presti -- who held a camp recently to audition free agents who have the potential to be great defenders, who drafted Westbrook high for his defense, who traded for Thabo Sefolosha for defense, and who comes from the Spurs -- it's that he is dedicated to making the Thunder a solid defensive unit.
On the defensive side of the ball, there is simply nothing wrong at all with playing Ricky Rubio and Russell Westbrook together. They are both dedicated and skilled wings. The only trouble would be on offense. And that's where it's hard to know how to factor in the fact that Rubio is just 18. You know he'll improve at a lot of stuff ... but what?
If you look really hard, you can find some evidence that Rubio could be a decent standstill shooter. He shot 42% from downtown in the Spanish ACB this year (although he did not shoot nearly as well in EuroLeague nor last summer's Olympics, and we have no idea what to expect from the longer NBA 3-point line). The ability to hit open jumpers would make a big difference.
The biggest hole in Rubio's offensive game is scoring once he beats his man on the perimeter. But in that range, he is a deadly passer, and surely Kevin Durant and Jeff Green could benefit from his presence. He can cause problems for defenses, even if Westbrook would not be the ideal running mate.
There is one other possibility here: Maybe Sam Presti would take Rubio simply because it's the value pick. There are some GMs in love with him, and the offers could be good. Let's say you're Sam Presti and you really want James Harden. If the rumors are true, and Minnesota's David Kahn is really hot for Rubio, then you might be able to trade Rubio to him James Harden and another first-round pick, likely the eighteenth pick.
Or maybe there is another GM out there in love with the Spaniard. By getting word to the media that you're going to take Rubio, you spread the word to 29 other teams that if they want that guard, you're the guy to come to with offers.
And if the offers aren't good enough? Keeping him wouldn't be the craziest thing in the world.