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Friday, June 26, 2009
Ricky Rubio, Playing Minnesota Poker


We have been teased. As NBA fans, we were told we would get to see Ricky Rubio, one of the most exciting players on the planet, evolve into greatness before our eyes. Now plenty of people are suggesting -- insiders around Rubio, the GM of the team that drafted him, the father of the player himself -- Rubio may be headed back to Europe for a year or two.

Ricky Rubio
You want me to play where?
(Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)

All this just two days after Rubio stared into the camera and said he wanted to come to the NBA so badly he'd play for free.

Now, instead of elite basketball, we get to watch elite poker. Bluffs, counterbluffs and gamesmanship -- perhaps, as sources suggest, with all parties: Rubio, his agent, and the Timberwolves working together to find a new NBA home for the young point guard.

David Kahn sent a letter to Timberwolves season ticket holders that included this:

With the sixth pick, we selected Jonny Flynn. I truly believe that Jonny is as much a scorer as a playmaker and will thrive playing off of Ricky. I also believe that, together, we will have one of the most dynamic defensive backcourts in the NBA over time. You will love Jonny Flynn. He, too, will be special.

And I also believe that there is a tendency in the NBA for all of us (myself included) to become too formulaic in our thinking. If you think of the Detroit Pistons backcourt during their championship run, with Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, or the Celtics with their backcourt of Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson (and before Ainge there was Gerald Henderson), or the Lakers with Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, or the Knicks with Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, there are many instances of championship success that is not so paint-by-the-numbers.

It can and will work. 

I have talked to sources in several NBA front offices -- and elsewhere -- who are knowledgeable of the situation. Want to know how many of them buy Kahn's reasoning? None. Not one believes it even a little bit. Collectively, the executives rank the likelihood of a long-term Rubio and Flynn tandem at precisely zero.

This game has a lot more cards than may have been immediately apparent. Here's my attempt to frame the game in its current state: