Over the past two years, the Minnesota Timberwolves have occasionally claimed that Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio was on the verge of ditching his homeland to come to the NBA. Never mind that general manager David Kahn made those claims with only circumstantial evidence, or that if Rubio really wanted to play in Minnesota, he would have done so when he was drafted in 2009.
A few weeks ago, Kahn and his band of merry men went to Barcelona to speak with their theoretical point guard. If they secured a commitment from Rubio for the 2011-12 season, it was not publicized. Now, franchise owner Glen Taylor says that Rubio has serious reservations about coming to the NBA with a lockout looming. From Charley Walters in the Pioneer Press (via PBT):
"That is the question," Wolves owner Glen Taylor said Monday. "He's asking how that (lockout) might affect him, if we don't play or if we will play. And our answer is, 'We won't know the answer to that question. You're going to have to make your decision before that.'
"We (NBA owners) are negotiating with the players right now. We're hopeful we'll play. But I don't want to guarantee him that because there's no way that I know that."
It would cost almost $1 million for Rubio to buy out his FC Barcelona contract. NBA rules prohibit a team from spending more than $500,000 toward a contract buyout. The Wolves are expected to contribute the limit.
"It's up to him to either pay them or finance it or whatever he can do," Taylor said of the remainder of the buyout. "He has given us indications that he's very interested. But until he signs, I'm really hesitant to say anything.
"But he's met with our guys, and it's been very positive. He's asked the right questions."
The problem for the Wolves, as Taylor's comments indicate, is that the answers to those "right questions" produce answers that Rubio doesn't like. There's little point in his spending $500,000 of his own money to get out of his Barcelona contract when he may only be on the court for a portion of an NBA season. Playing against the best players will help his development, but that might not be the case if the season gets cut to 50 games or fewer.
It's a risky move for Rubio when staying in Spain represents such a safe option. The Spanish ACB is the second-best league in the world, so it's not as if he'll be playing against a bunch of Jose Schmoes. Plus, there's a huge amount of questions in Minnesota right now: Young point guard Jonny Flynn is still on the roster, Luke Ridnour gets a lot of minutes, Kurt Rambis may not be the coach for much longer, and Kahn could be on his way out in a year or so, too. No player wants to enter a situation in that much turmoil.
The whole ordeal makes you wonder exactly when the Wolves and the NBA will be in good enough shape for Rubio to play for them. Will it be when the new collective bargaining agreement is finalized? Will Kahn have to get rid of all other competition at the point guard spot? Will Rambis have to go? Will Kahn have to be in a penal colony? These are rare questions to pose when discussing a draft prospect, but Rubio has shown enough reluctance to play for the franchise that they have to be asked. Maybe there's no other solution here than for Minnesota to trade his rights.