MADRID – As the hours lurched to the gold-medal game on Sunday night, Ricky Rubio still wondered whether he could bring himself to a television for United States-Serbia. For weeks, there had been a sure, steady beat of anticipation of Spain reaching these World Cup of Basketball Finals, only to witness that opportunity obliterated. Spain had its forever team, and somehow let itself lose to France.
"I don't know if I'm going to watch the game yet," Rubio told Yahoo Sports on Sunday afternoon. "It's really tough right now. Everybody was talking about basketball here in Spain … and we had one bad day and everything went away."
Rubio needed this summer with the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, with Jose Calderon and Juan Navarro, with a talented, winning team that played beautiful ball, played together. He had listened to Minnesota Timberwolves officials, and grown stronger in his upper body, sturdier for the pounding of a pro point guard. He is 23 years old, and still holds the promise to be a dazzling NBA player. Rubio's gifts with the ball and pass are unique, and yes, still largely untapped.
Rubio's promised a return to a transformed reality with the Timberwolves, a reshaped roster without the star he had never wanted to lose out of his life. Rubio had planned to wait until his national team responsibilities were over to reach out to his newest running mate, Andrew Wiggins. In a lot of ways, Rubio still had to process that Love had left him, that those magnificent months in the 2011-12 season – before Rubio's ACL tear, before Love's injuries – when it felt like they had something magical together, had staying power.
"We had a pretty good, pretty amazing first season together," Rubio told Yahoo Sports. "But then we were unlucky, had a lot of injuries, and that cut the rhythm, the momentum, that we had started with together. If nobody got hurt, we could've made it to the playoffs and maybe have gone farther together. But the injuries started, and kept going, and we never could keep what we had."
Before Love had his agent push the Wolves for a trade in April, Rubio never did have a heart-to-heart with him about a future together. On a trip to Los Angeles after the T'wolves season ended, Rubio considered talking to Love there, but never bothered.
What was the point anymore?
"If he wanted to leave, there's no reason to talk to him about it," Rubio told Yahoo. "I really liked playing with him, but I'll play with the players who want to be there. Kevin wants to win. That's normal. He's been there six years without the playoffs. I understand. If I was in the same situation – being one of the best players in the league – and not being able to be in the playoffs, I'd have a lot of frustration, too.
"The last couple years there have been a lot of questions. It is hard – even if the team is good – the media always talks about it. You don't want to think about it, but everyone is always talking about your main guy this way. And it becomes harder to be focused.
"Right now, we have to play with the players we have."
When the Love-Wiggins trade was finally notarized in late August, there was no telephone call. Rubio texted Love, and wished him well. Love texted back. Apparently, that's how breakups go these days. And it was over. "I have to be thankful for everything he did for me," Rubio told Yahoo. "Coming from Europe to the NBA, it is not easy. Having the superstar give you the head's-up on things, look out for you … I appreciate it.
"But in the end, it didn't work out and we move on. He's always going to be a great memory with me. Not just the way we played together, because it was fun but it's the way he accepted me from day one."
So Minnesota president and coach Flip Saunders has to make a decision on his willingness to extend Rubio's rookie contract with a deal that corresponds with a belief the T'wolves see him as franchise cornerstone. Saunders has had discussions with Rubio's agent Dan Fegan and they'll talk more between now and the Oct. 31 deadline. Without an extension, Rubio can be a restricted free agent next summer.
"I'm loyal," Rubio told Yahoo. "I want to give them back what they gave me there: a lot of love."
For now, Rubio moves past a summer of losing a chance at Team USA in the World Cup of Basketball, losing Kevin Love. He is still fighting his way back from that ACL injury, recalibrating the game in ways with which you never knew you'd needed to do.
"When you lose a year or nine months, you lose a lot of muscle," Rubio says. "You lose the feel and rhythm of the game. You lose quickness. It doesn't come back right away. It comes with time. It comes with work."
Now, Rubio starts to think about the end of the summer in Spain, about a return to Minnesota and training camp and a life without Love. He had hoped it would start late Sunday night in Madrid, would start with an electric night in the Palacio de los Deportes. It never happened. Spain lost in the quarterfinals and all the noise, all the vibe in this beautiful country, went away.
"It's a really tough time right now," Rubio said on Sunday, but basketball goes on, and his flight back to the States, back to a different day with the Timberwolves, comes soon. Yes, Ricky Rubio had a tough time turning on his television on Sunday. Summer's almost over now.
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