Wolves to make annual pilgrimage to Ricky Rubio next week

Eric Freeman

Two years ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves and their general manager David Kahn shocked the NBA world by taking point guards with consecutive lottery picks. The second, Jonny Flynn, has been a disappointment. The first, Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio, refused to play for Minnesota and has since seen his development stagnate while playing for Barcelona.

Still, Rubio is a valued prospect, particularly by the Wolves executives who drafted him. That's why, for the next week, they'll make their yearly pilgrimage to Spain to try to convince him to come to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

This time, they think they have a pretty good chance of getting the job done. Take it from Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (via PBT):

[H]is team still has Spanish league play left during a European season that, like the NBA, never seems to end.

That fact could complicate the timing of a completed deal because Rubio must exercise a $1 million-plus buyout with his Barcelona team and because Rubio and his family don't want it to appear as if he already has a foot out the door to the NBA before his team's season concludes. [...]

Here's why he just might be ready to make the move to the NBA -- and thus to the Wolves, who own his league rights for as long as he continues to play professionally without sitting out an entire season -- now:

* His playing time and development has regressed rather than developed playing for a veteran-filled, championship-caliber team in his hometown.

* A provision in the NBA's soon-to-expire labor agreement with players allows him to sign under the current rookie scale by May 31 rather than gamble on what a new Collective Bargaining Agreement might look like for rookies, whenever they might be hammered out.

Zgoda also notes that Rubio has rarely had a break due to long European seasons and Spanish national team commitments, so the prospect of a lockout might not be so bad. On the other hand, a lockout will ensure that he'll miss significant development time with his new teammates and coaching staff.

That's an issue for a 20-year-old point guard who will need time to get acclimated to the speed of the NBA game. Rubio has great court vision, but he's proven to have very few ways of scoring -- his jumper needs work and he struggles finishing at the rim. Will sitting out a few months really help him improve his strength and skill?

Money is a factor, to be sure, but Rubio can make a decent buck in Spain. Since being drafted by Minnesota, he's made it abundantly clear that he won't cross the Atlantic just to play in the NBA. He wants a good situation, and the Wolves just don't qualify as such: They still seem somewhat interested in developing Flynn, and their triangle offense is a poor fit for Rubio's talents. What, exactly, is the lure for Rubio?

It may be that he wants to go to America before he's no longer a developing prospect. Still, all NBA opportunities are not created equal. Kahn may think he can convince Rubio to come to Minnesota. But it's also likely that Rubio's uneasiness rests in the current problems with the franchise, not some personal reluctance to play in the NBA.