Ricky Rubio chills like a bro (Nathaniel S. Butler/ Getty).
Minnesota Timberwolves moppet Ricky Rubio is the NBA's current boy idol, a sort of cross between Jason Kidd and the dewy-eyed younger brother figure from your favorite late-'90s boy band. With his genius court vision, Rubio needs room to operate to be wholly successful. If a defender gives him little space, and roughs him up, then he can't be quite so effective.
The Wolves understandably want to protect Rubio from harm — he's a young star with the potential to lead the franchise to heights it hasn't reached since Kevin Garnett's best years. So, to help him get some more favorable calls, they've sent video evidence of improper treatment of Rubio to the league office. From Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (via EOB):
Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said the team has sent video to the NBA , seeking to call attention to what Kahn and the team's coaches believe are opponents being overly physical with rookie guard Ricky Rubio.
The team sent many examples of what it deems are fouls never called against defenders who have decided the best way to play the skinny rookie is to muscle him.
"All our young guys are learning that, Ricky especially," coach Rick Adelman said about opposing defenses adjusting to stop the Wolves' offense. "They're putting bigger guys on him...They're beating the hell out of him right now. The league has figured out you have to be physical with him. And he's kind of learning on the fly.''
When asked how physical teams are being with him, Rubio chuckled and said, "Tough enough. I mean, it's close to end of the season, everybody wants to get a spot in the playoff and everybody start to play more physically. You know, it is what it is. We just have to play at the same level or even harder."
What's curious here is that Adelman and Rubio seem to accept this treatment as a fact of the NBA, a rite of passage on the way from rookie status to becoming part of the veteran establishment. They look at the issue from the insider's view, and it mostly makes sense to them. This is just how the NBA works.
On the other hand, Kahn (and anyone else in the front office who supported this idea) is trying to protect his investment. The issue for him is unrelated to what NBA culture demands of its players. Instead, he's more interested in making things easier for Rubio so that he can succeed on the court. It's fundamentally a practical approach that disregards more philosophical issues like how tough an NBA player should be or the degree to which Rubio needs to prove himself before he earns these calls.
The problem is that NBA officiating is not governed by a set of firmly observed rules. Referees respond to reputations, because their job is not so much to observe rules as to control the game in a way that the players and coaches on the court accept. For Kahn to disregard those opinions and complain to the league is actually an impractical solution that pays little attention to the facts on the ground.
It's likely that these complaints will have little effect on how other players and referees view Rubio. Ultimately, they'll only start treating him differently when he proves that he can handle this rough defense. Nonetheless, treating Rubio as if he needs protection from the officials only reinforces the opinion that he's a young, adorable kid not quite ready to bang with the men of the best basketball league in the world. And while that point of view will likely be proven wrong soon enough (if it hasn't already — Rubio hasn't exactly struggled this year), it's the kind of thing that usually happens organically, not with league intervention. No matter how many times Kahn talks to the league, Rubio isn't going to earn this respect quite so quickly.
- Ricky Rubio