When Ricky Rubio recently gave an interview to Catalunya Radio, a couple of positives came to light regarding the Jazz.
The meat of that positivity arrived wrapped inside the headliner, within a single quote from Rubio, who said the Jazz “let me know that I am not priority number one. Then, we have to look for other options.”
Rubio said he was inspired by Marc Gasol’s success in the postseason with Toronto, that he was envious of him and that watching him in the playoffs could affect his path in free agency.
Well. The Jazz were inspired long before the Raptors made their run.
They, too, want to make the NBA Finals. And they can’t do it with Rubio as their point guard.
That’s the reason he’s not a top priority.
Rubio was a good idea at the time he was acquired two offseasons back, back before Gordon Hayward made known his decision to go finish his business with his college coach in Boston, back when the Jazz were attempting to sway Hayward to stay, back before anybody around here had heard of Donovan Mitchell.
He performed pretty well over stretches for Quin Snyder, especially during that initial season — remember the hug shared by the coach and player after the Jazz qualified for the postseason? — and there were hopes that Rubio could continue along his upward arc in an area for which he had never previously been known, an area that is, in most cases, an absolute requirement for an effective point guard in the modern NBA — perimeter shooting.
That arc flattened.
The Jazz need exactly what Rubio cannot offer.
Despite the useful qualities the point guard brought the team, his playing with passion, his popularity in the locker room, his connection to the community, none of that is especially helpful if he shoots 31 percent from deep while wide open, if opponents are willing to sag off and give help defending the few Jazz players who can shoot, fully aware that Rubio can’t.
Knowing this, and willing to act on it rather than sit satisfied with the established norm, despite the experienced positives, the Jazz would rather take the $15 million that would have gone to Rubio and use that sum, and more, to address Rubio’s — their — weakness.
A lot of people thought — still think — the Jazz should have done more to upgrade at the point position before the trade deadline, when it became known they were interested in acquiring Mike Conley, and failed to do so.
There are those who believe the trade rumors got to Rubio, adversely affecting his play, nicking him in the very place from where the good things he brought to the Jazz emanated — his heart.
Rubio himself admitted that the talk dragged him down.
“Yeah, I’m not gonna lie — it affected me,” he said.
None of that changed the fact that even with an unaffected heart Rubio could not shoot. Not with any consistency. And without that threat out front, Snyder’s offense was compromised.
The Jazz weren’t gonna lie, either.
They straight told Rubio that he was not a top priority and not every team does that. Many do lie — until they have their bases covered. The Jazz should be commended for candidly giving their guy a heads up to look for what best suits him in free agency. If he wants to come back in a lesser role for less money — unlikely, according to what he said — then, there’s that.
For their part, the Jazz still don’t know exactly what they’re going to be able to pull off this offseason. They may have hints, but nothing is solidified. They do not know whether they can effectively upgrade at the point guard position, or whether Mitchell will be required hereafter to initiate the attack more often, much the way he did in fourth quarters of the season past.
Whoever is signed or traded for or moved to the point, the Jazz can use the resources formerly spent on Rubio to address their biggest need. To get … you-know-what. Often in the game now, in playoff basketball, it’s not the so-called point guard who triggers the action, it’s the team’s best offensive player. Position-less basketball extends there, too.
The Jazz’s willingness to be aggressive — whether it actually pays off or not — starts by showing early signs of kicking away the status quo. And that is a needed move forward. Not lying about it to Rubio beforehand simply showed character.
With recognition, willingness and honesty covered, acumen and good luck sit together at the scorer’s table, now waiting to step on the floor.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.