Recapping the Rubio for Prince Deal

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

A trade! A real life Timberwolves offseason move finally happened for us diehard fans and bloggers to have something to write about. It certainly was not the deal that many fans hoped for as the Wolves moved off of Ricky Rubio’s bloated contract with 1 year remaining for a player who is not as good as Ricky but is slightly less expensive and plays a position of need. Let’s try to make some sense of the draft night swap!


The Trade

The Players

Taurean Prince may not be familiar to you however! He is a 6’7″ forward from Baylor who has spent 5 seasons in the NBA with Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Cleveland. I name him as a “forward” because he was listed as a Small Forward for his first 3 seasons, but has been listed as a Power Forward for the past 2 years. Essentially he could be interchangeable between the two positions and he has been in the past few years. I think the statistics do a good job of outlining his game. His big “Plus” is that he is an accurate 3pt. shooter on relatively high volume. Throughout his career, he has hit 37% of his 3’s on 6.8 attempts per 36 minutes. Prince’s best shooting season was his final year in Atlanta where he attempted 7.3 3’s per 36 minutes and converted 39%. That’s really good! Shooting like that does not typically come with a 6’7″ long and strong frame. Since that season, Prince has seen a bit of a drop-off in his at-rim shooting percentage, and overall has not taken many shots from the rim. Midrange shooting has also never been a strength for him. Offensively he is most useful as a spot-up 3pt. shooter to space the floor. That will be an impactful role for him to fill in lineups next to Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell.


Defense is the big question. If he is the starter at power forward then that likely solves very little for a shoddy Wolves defense that needs size and rim protection. I see a big wing off the bench as a more ideal role for this Wolves team. Prince is long and strong and can be a bigger body to throw at opposing wing players. Playing him in front courts off the bench with Jarred Vanderbilt and Naz Reid could provide a unique blend of shooting, energy, and size. Let’s hope the Wolves mean to move him back to his Small Forward days.


Why the Cavs did it…

Cleveland has a fairly young and inexpensive team and they may feel like they have the arrow pointed in the right direction after the 2021 draft. The Cavs have a bevy of young, talented, and impressionable players in Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, and Evan Mobley. Enter Rubio who is coming off of 4 straight seasons of mentoring (successfully) rising star guards in Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, and Anthony Edwards. Why wouldn’t they want an awesome veteran presence in their locker room who can also still provide some juice on the court? Only needing to part with Prince, who was going to get lost in the shuffle in their crowded front court, and a 2nd round pick next season to make the trade happen was likely a fairly easy choice.


I am no Cavaliers blogger, but I would imagine Ricky slots into Cleveland’s backup point guard role but still spends time playing next to Collin Sexton and Darius Garland to help to set them up to score and get the offense organized as Rubio has done throughout his career. If he can provide the same leadership and presence that he brought in Minnesota along with a little better on-court production, the Cavs will feel great about this trade as they move forward on their team-building path.


Why the Wolves did it…

With all of that said, this trade only looks good if it leads to a larger, more impactful move. Right now the move appears to be motivated by gaining flexibility in this offseason to add money via a trade, use the mid-level exception, and/or resign Jarred Vanderbilt. The Wolves will save about $5 million on this year’s cap sheet by swapping Prince for Rubio. Prince’s contract is also expiring after this coming season, just like Ricky’s. Minnesota also netted a 2nd round pick in 2022 (Washington’s) which could end up being fairly high 2nd round depending on Washington’s upcoming moves. Ideally this gives Gersson Rosas more ammo and flexibility to swing a “big fish” trade. We all know the names: Myles Turner, Ben Simmons, Pascal Siakam, etc… Rosas has continued to trumpet the idea that one of the main ways the team will improve is via trades. I agree with him, and this first move to send away Rubio seems like he is playing chess and not checkers. However making chess moves without a plan ends up making you look silly.


So that is Rosas’ bet. That he has a Plan A, B, C, and D for what to do with his newfound flexibility as we head into the next phase of the offseason. If I were handing out grades, the Wolves would receive an “incomplete” for this deal. If it leads to acquiring a “big fish” on the trade market while staying under the luxury tax then Kudos to Rosas & Co! If the Wolves roll into the 20–21 season with Prince penciled in as the starting power forward and little else to show for dealing away a franchise favorite, things may start to get a little warm under Gersson’s seat.


Count me as a continued believer in the vision for the Wolves. I really do think the Rubio move is a precursor to another acquisition or two, but for the first time in his tenure I feel there is very warranted pressure on this Wolves front office to get it right. We are about to find out what Rosas is made of.


-Jerry W.