Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ricky Rubio is Coming

While Shaquille O'Neal's three-years-too-late retirement was stealing all the headlines in the NBA on the first off-day of the NBA Finals, the big story was percolating in Spain.

For the first time in nearly a decade, fan(s) of the Minnesota Timberwolves have a modicum of hope for their favorite basketball team.

Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio is joining the Timberwolves this fall, according to multiple reports. Rubio was Minnesota's first first-round pick in 2009, the first draft David Kahn was responsible for overseeing. Kahn -- the butt of jokes and ridicule since he got the job -- has banked a lot of his reputation on Rubio making a difference for Minnesota, while many panned that the dynamic player wanted nothing to do with Minnesota.

Obviously, this development doesn't mean Rubio is automatically going to pan out and be awesome, and it doesn't mean Kahn still can't screw this team up some more. They do, after all, still desperately need a shooting guard, preferably someone a little taller to add size to the Minnesota backcourt (Rubio is a lot of things, and "big" isn't one of them). And they haven't had a competent center since, um ... er ... yeah.

Oh, and they might need a coach.

Could this be one reason David Kahn has waited so long to decide the coach's fate.

My hunch is this further decreases the odds that (Kurt) Rambis will be back, or greatly increases the odds that Rambis must pledge to make big changes with his offense if he does return.

Kahn and the Wolves can't risk that Rubio's game and confidence will get lost in Rambis' triangle-ish offense, as Flynn did.

That's why I'd expect them to hire a point guard-friendly coach, although very doubtfully in time for the fast-approaching draft.

My hunch is that Rambis is gone, but Kahn didn't want to pull the trigger until he knew he had Rubio in the fold. It's not about letting Rubio have a say in the next coach, as much as it is making sure you know what kind of style you want your team to play and your coach to be familiar/comfortable with.

Don't ask me who that person is. I don't know nearly enough about the game to make that kind of guess.

Many will talk about Rubio's subpar numbers in Spain. Don't let that dissuade the excitement over this player.

Rubio averaged a modest 6.5 points per game on 39 percent shooting while dealing with a foot injury. With Rubio coming off the bench, Regal Barcelona has reached the Spanish League finals, meaning it will likely be mid to late June before he can be introduced by the Timberwolves, who think he will flourish in the more wide-open NBA, where guards are allowed much more freedom on the perimeter.

"He's gotten bigger and he plays outstanding defense, and because he's a pass-first guard -- he's going to be liked by everybody who plays with him," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said last year. Krzyzewski also coached Team USA against Rubio and Spain in Beijing.

Rubio dominated the junior circuit in Europe and turned professional at 14. His flashy style and baby face made him an instant sensation in Europe and, even though his stock has dipped some this year, the Wolves are as enamored as ever.

"He's a special player and a very good point guard," Lakers forward and fellow Spainiard Pau Gasol said earlier this season. "Very unselfish. He's got great size, great length. He knows how to play the game very well. He's got a great feel for the game. He's just a guy that will get the team going and do what he needs to do."

Don't make any mistake, though. Rubio is a key pickup for Minnesota, and his development will go a long way toward determining the Wolves' chances going forward, as well as Kahn's future employment.

For Kahn, this is a huge win. He's deserved most of the shots that have been taken at him, because it has often looked like he didn't really know what he was doing. But he continued to pursue Rubio without putting undue pressure on him, and he got the guy he was looking for all along. That's a credit to him, whether you like him and the job he's done or not.

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