Friday, June 17, 2011
Ricky Rubio confirms he'll join Wolves
ESPN.com news services
Ricky Rubio is making his long-awaited move to the NBA and will join the Minnesota Timberwolves next season.
The highly touted 20-year-old Spanish guard ended two years of speculation Friday, saying, "I have finally decided to start the journey" to the NBA.
"It is my dream and I want to fulfill it," he said. "After thinking about it a lot, the time has arrived."
The Timberwolves chose Rubio with the No. 5 pick in the 2009 NBA draft. But his $6 million buyout clause at Joventut, his first Spanish pro team -- of which an NBA team could pay only $500,000 under league rules -- made him stay in Spain until it came down to a more manageable $1.4 million.
"I felt very confident since we drafted him that he would start his career here," Timberwolves president David Kahn said. "There was never a moment where that really wavered."
The Timberwolves have scheduled an introductory news conference for Rubio on Tuesday.
Since his debut with Joventut when he was 14, Rubio has won numerous titles in Europe. He also helped Spain reach the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game, a loss to the United States.
"I think all that I have won here gives me strength to go," Rubio said.
But Rubio is coming off perhaps his most disappointing season. His scoring average dropped to 6.5 points and he even lost his starting spot with Barcelona.
Speaking at a news conference at Camp Nou stadium -- where soccer star Lionel Messi and manager Pep Guardiola usually address the media -- Rubio acknowledged his shortcomings.
"Individually, I could have done things better, but it is a team sport and we had success," Rubio said, adding he was not going to the NBA in an attempt to revive his game.
"I am going because I feel prepared," Rubio said. "I want to play against the best players in the world."
Barcelona won the Spanish league title last week, and Rubio knows he might have to wait a while for another trophy. Minnesota was an NBA-worst 17-65 last season and is in dire need of a capable point guard.
"It will mean a change of mentality," Rubio said. "Perhaps we won't be fighting for the title, but we will have other goals. I am willing to do whatever the team needs to win as many games as possible."
The Timberwolves also have the second pick in next week's draft, and they should be able to add another player to ease Rubio's transition.
Rubio said he hasn't spoken with his new team about what his exact role will be, but he is sure they will want him to add more muscle on his lanky, 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame, with a 6-9 wingspan.
"The game is more physical (in the NBA)," he said. "I have to hit the weights and get stronger."
Many had speculated that Rubio would try to force his way out of small-market Minnesota to play in a bigger city. But the Timberwolves never pressured the teen, delicately negotiating until Rubio decided the time was right.
In his last two seasons in Spain, Rubio averaged 5.9 points, 4.4 assists and 1.85 steals in 21.6 minutes. The Timberwolves believe that Rubio is better suited to the NBA than the European game, which is played on smaller courts and doesn't give guards as much room to operate on the perimeter.
"I like the NBA game as a spectator," Rubio said. "It is very attractive and more open."
The Wolves expect him to flourish with the freedom that he will have in the NBA, which differs from the more rigid, deliberate style that Barcelona employs.
"A lot of attention is paid to his numbers without really an understanding of how different their game is and their style of play," Kahn said, "Especially with the Barcelona team, which plays a very half-court-oriented game that frankly isn't very suitable for his style."
Rubio will wear No. 9 for the Wolves, and the team unveiled a special season ticket package Friday to promote his arrival. Fans have been eager to see this flashy passer, and the Timberwolves announced a "Ricky Rubio No. 9" package in which they can buy a pair of season tickets for next season for $9 a game.
Kahn, however, sought to manage expectations on Friday, saying Rubio deserves the kind of patience that is afforded every rookie.
"I don't know what his defined role will be next year," Kahn said. "But there's no question in my mind that he will play next year and he will play significant minutes."
Rubio had to reach a contract agreement with the Timberwolves and submit it to the NBA by May 31 to be eligible to play next season.
Rubio's move to the NBA could not happen, however, without chain-of-command overseas approval. Barcelona had to authorize his release with Spanish league officials, who then had to forward their approval to FIBA, the international basketball federation.
No action could be taken until Rubio's season with Barcelona was over, so the final approval process did not begin until the team completed its league championship run Tuesday night.
A letter of approval from FIBA, the last step, awaited NBA commissioner David Stern when he arrived at his office Thursday morning, a source with knowledge of the process told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher.
The release of drafted international players had not been an issue previously because international league play consistently ended well before May 31. The NBA and FIBA, a source told Bucher, reached an agreement in the past few years that supersedes the existing language of the league's collective bargaining agreement to get around the timing issue.
Rubio has been compared to the late NBA legend Pete Maravich, in part because of his ballhandling skills and floor vision and in part because of a physical resemblance.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN The Magazine senior NBA writer Ric Bucher was used in this report.