Knicks GM Donnie Walsh has made no bones about it — his sole job is to clear cap space for the summer 2010 free agent sweepstakes.
The Knicks’ ultimate goal is to have enough money to sign two players from the group of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson, among others.
As it turns out, Walsh also might have someone else on his radar.
After missing out on Spanish star Ricky Rubio in June’s draft, the Knicks may be after him again, the New York Post reports. The 19-year-old point guard is viewed by many as the perfect fit for coach Mike D’Antoni’s infamous “seven seconds or less” offense.
Rubio and fellow point guard Jonny Flynn were taken back-to-back by the Minnesota Timberwolves in last June’s draft, setting the rumor mill in motion. Rubio, who is still under contract in Spain, caught the eye of many GMs with his performance in the Beijing Olympics against many of the best players in the world. The mop-topped Spaniard was wary of playing in Minnesota and used his contract and its buyout clause as leverage to stay in Europe for at least one more year.
Rubio’s previous contract had a buyout clause of $8 million, only $500,000 of which can be paid by the NBA team who signs him. Even if the deal could be negotiated to a slightly lower amount, the difference for which Rubio would be responsible is significant — not nearly enough to justify a jump to Minnesota. The point guard's logic was that a larger market like New York would provide enough endorsement opportunities to make up the difference in ways Minnesota couldn't offer.
On the Knicks’ front, they have a glaring need for a point guard. This season, the position has been manned by career backup Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson — an undersized playmaker forced into playing — and Larry Hughes, a journeyman combo guard who currently resides as close to D’Antoni’s permanent dog house as Woodstock does to Snoopy’s. All three players will be out of a contract next season and stand very little chance of remaining in Blue and Orange. Only Tony Douglas is likely to remain, and he has not shown enough in limited minutes to dissuade Walsh from pursuing a player of Rubio's potential.
The Knicks’ scouting and management departments have begun meeting in preparation of the NBA’s Feb. 19 trade deadline. Kevin Wilson, an international scout for the Knicks who lives in Barcelona where Rubio plays, has been part of the discussions. According to the Post, Wilson is good friends with the Rubio family.
Rubio wants to play in a big market and his family is friendly with a Knicks scout. If he stays in Europe for a little bit longer, his contract won’t hurt the 2010 salary cap number. The signs point to the Big Apple, but do the Knicks have the trade chips to get it done?
To get a young player the caliber of Rubio, the Knicks would have to trade a serious asset. Considering they are only really looking to trade Jared Jefferies and Eddy Curry (whose contracts go beyond 2010), and have no first-round pick, getting a deal done could be a long shot.
Walsh told the Post that the Timberwolves plan to bring Rubio over next season. Many Knicks fans probably wouldn’t mind if his layover at JFK lasted a little longer than scheduled.