Ricky Rubio’s unclear status raises some questions for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
To be clear and direct: Rubio’s mental health matters more than any on-court need for the Cavs. In early August, Rubio announced that he was going to ‘pause’ his professional career to focus on his mental health. That took the 32-year-old Rubio out of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, where he was expected to lead Spain towards mental contention, as well as casting doubt over his status for the 2023-24 NBA season.
“I have decided to stop my professional activity to take care of my mental health. I want to thank all the support I have received from the [Spanish national] team to understand my decision,” Rubio said in statement. “Today family makes more sense than ever. Thank you. I would ask that my privacy be respected so that I can face these moments and be able to give more information when the time is right.”
Rubio, a 12-year NBA veteran, struggled with Cleveland last season. Coming back from a second torn ACL, he never looked right physically and struggled to make an impact in the way he did during the 2021-22 season with the Cavs. He appeared in just 33 games, averaging 5.2 points and 3.5 assists. In the playoffs, he played
The 12-year NBA veteran had a subpar year for the Cavs last season as he worked back from a torn ACL, the second of his career, suffered during the 2021-22 season. He averaged 5.2 points and 3.5 assists in 33 games after rejoining the team midseason. In the playoffs, he averaged 5.7 minutes per game in Cleveland’s first-round loss to the Knicks.
Rubio has two seasons and $12.5 million remaining on a three-year deal he signed with the Cavs last summer. The final year is partially guaranteed. As of publication, there has been no word on if the Cavs have applied for any kind of exemtption to get Rubio’s salary off the books. That, as of now, means the door is open for him to return.
Aside from Rubio, the Cavs have five other guards under contract: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Ty Jerome, Sam Merrill and Caris LeVert. They also have rookie Craig Porter Jr. signed to a two-way deal.
None of the signed players are a one-to-one Rubio replacement. Porter Jr. might be — he has the frame to be a bigger combo guard — but he’s on a two-way deal, limiting his NBA availability, and a rookie. Jerome, a player Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman has known for about a decade, might be the other option if Cleveland wants to throw a bigger guard in the rotation. It might also mean Caris LeVert needs to play as more of a creator vs. a scorer off of the bench.
All of this assumes Rubio was a lock to be in the Cavs’ rotation next season. Which, based on how he played, shouldn’t have been a lock. Coming off of the ACL tear, there was a severe dropoff in Rubio’s play. If that continues if/when he plays — and there was no bounce back with more time for him to recover — he could be left out of the rotation entirely. And with no FIBA play to gauge where he’s at currently, any Rubio minutes in the 2023-24 season will be an unknown.
So where does that leave the Cavs? They have two open roster spots. They could create a third by waiving Merrill, whose deal is non-guaranteed. After sign-and-trading for Sam Merrill, they have roughly $9 million underneath the hard cap line. So, if Altman wanted to, he could go sign a veteran point guard and still have room to take on other salary in trades later on. But there also isn’t a no-brainer signing left to make. And last year’s backup, Raul Neto, is off the board after he signed to a team in Europe.
This probably puts the Cavs in a holding pattern, at least for another month before training camp opens. That’s time to see if Rubio will play next season or not and give Cleveland an idea of if they need to sign someone else before the season starts.