When the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire Ricky Rubio over the summer, some rival executives questioned the move. One Western Conference executive wondering why the Cavaliers gave up a second-round pick for a point guard in Rubio who was entering his mid-thirties. An Eastern Conference scout agreed but also shared that it made no sense that Cleveland was giving Minnesota Taurean Prince, who was considered a reliable wing and plays at a dire position of need for the Cavaliers.
In 14 games for the Timberwolves, Prince is averaging 3.9 points on 34.0% shooting and 1.9 rebounds per game, which both are career-worsts. Minnesota is also 7-9 and firmly out of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. Rubio, meanwhile, is averaging 15.1 points on 38.1% shooting along with 3.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game with the Cavaliers. Cleveland is currently 9-9 with Rubio on the roster and in tenth place in the Eastern Conference.
For what it's worth, many expected these kinds of results of nearly 20 games into the season for the Timberwolves. Minnesota has and will continue to be a middling team with a load of young, fun talent on it but no identity to get them seriously closer to the playoffs. For the Cavaliers, it's been a completely different experience through nearly the first quarter of their season. Many, this author included, picked Cleveland to finish on the outside looking in when it comes to the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavaliers would essentially be in limbo stuck between not being a bottom feeder like the Magic or the Pistons or a fringe playoff threat like the Hornets or the Wizards.
A lot of the credit should go to Cleveland rookie Evan Mobley showing that not only that he's the best rookie this season but also a talented enough player to raise the theoretical ceiling of this Cavaliers squad. Kudos should also go to head coach J.B. Bickerstaff as well - who has found the pulse of his young team and has them executing on both ends of the floor and should be in consideration for Coach of the Year if things continue.
Finally, there's Rubio who probably deserves the most credit of all. Before the season, Rubio was tabbed as potentially the biggest difference-maker on Cleveland's roster. But, that was due to the fact that he has been taking on an active role mentoring rising superstar Darius Garland and pushing him past the limits of a promising sophomore season. Garland is achieving that thanks to Rubio's guidance but, he's done so much more than that for the Cavaliers. Rubio has made Cedi Osman, who was in head coach J.B. Bickerstaff's doghouse last season, one of the team's best three-point shooters. Finally, Rubio is helping the team win and is the reason why they're on pace to win nearly 38 games this season - a far shot above what they were initially projected.
That's why even though Rubio is on an expiring contract worth $17.8 million, Cleveland should explore signing him to a contract extension. According to the league's collective bargaining agreement, the Cavaliers are eligible to extend Rubio at any given time but there are limits due to the extend-and-trade rules. These rules dictate that Rubio is eligible for, at most, a three-year extension with Cleveland that sees a five percent increase in salary and the same increase in subsequent years.
That means if money wasn't an option for the Cavaliers, they could sign Rubio to a three-year, $58.9 million contract extension at most if the organization wanted to. Thankfully, due to Rubio's status as a backup point guard in Cleveland's offensive dichotomy as well as his age, he wouldn't command nearly as much money on the open market. When asking various sources around the league, they think that Rubio would command a contract worth around $19.5 million over three years.
If the Cavaliers are able to come to those terms with Rubio, it becomes a no-brain decision for the organization. Everything Rubio has done thus far in his time in Cleveland has only been beneficial for both now and the team's long-term future. He's pushed Garland beyond his limits, and, in turn, made the former Vanderbilt product a pillar and face of the organization long-term. Not only that, but Rubio flat out makes winning plays - something the Cavaliers track using advanced metrics. More often than not, Rubio is closing games for Cleveland, regardless of the team's health, due to how he consistently makes the right play that helps lead to a win.
Granted, the Cavaliers can be patient with their approach to extending Rubio. If things end up going sideways for Cleveland, they could always explore trading the veteran guard at the league's annual trade deadline. Bickerstaff himself has called Rubio a "starting-caliber point guard" on multiple occasions so it's safe to assume that the Cavaliers would have plenty of interested suitors for his services.
Even though that could be a possibility, it feels safe to assume at this point with how well Cleveland is playing that the team doesn't need to explore trading Rubio. Sure, he wasn't keen on the idea of joining a rebuilding situation, according to sources. But, with Rubio becoming a key element for fueling this sudden playoff push from the Cavaliers, it makes sense to sign him to an extension sooner rather than later. Winning cures any ailment in sports and if Cleveland keeps doing that, Rubio will probably be open to signing an extension as well.