Jim Souhan: Rubio watch ended justly for team with time as ally

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 2, 2009 - 7:03 AM

Reality for giddy Wolves fans: The flashy kid would be no quick fix for a ballclub set on long-term rebuilding.

Ricky Rubio

Photo: Manu Fernandez, Associated Press - Ap

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If the saga of Ricky Rubio has proven anything definitive, it is that Timberwolves fans do indeed exist, and that their invisibility in seats and ratings this winter was a function of disdain and hopelessness, not sheer apathy.

It wasn't that long ago that the Wolves were selling out -- yes, that was earlier this decade -- and this summer the drafting of Rubio created a series of stories that were read rabidly on startribune.com.

Wolves fans are out there and they are angry, which is proof of life.

The latest development, Rubio's intention to play two more years in Spain before joining the NBA, at first glance appears like the kind of development that so many Wolves fans will immediately add to their litany of complaints about the woebegone franchise on First Avenue.

Joe Smith. Ray Allen. Brandon Roy. Stephon Marbury. Kevin Garnett. Kevin McHale. Glen Taylor. Ricky Rubio.

That last name doesn't qualify for this list, though. Not yet. Using the fifth pick in the draft to select a teenager unwilling to play on your continent would seem a devastating mistake at first glance, but let's recognize just how far the Wolves are from contention.

When commuting through rush hour traffic to a career-changing meeting, you are obliged to rush.

When you're driving across the country, you can afford the occasional detour.

The Wolves have no choice but to recognize that their journey toward respectability will be a long one.

Rubio would not have made the Wolves contenders this year, or next, and until this franchise moves within a shrewd free-agent move or two of a playoff berth in a tough conference, the BBBB -- Big-Brained Basketball Boss David Kahn -- needs to keep making moves that could pay off in three or four years.

In that context, taking Rubio made sense at the time, and still could prove wise. Rubio could be a prime tradeable asset. He could still arrive in time to help the Wolves contend in three or four years. He could even benefit more from spending more of his youth near his support system in Spain than moving to Minnesota and letting the cold, the losing, the aura around this devastated franchise sour him on Minneapolis and playing for the Wolves.

For now, he's the basketball equivalent of a top prospect playing in Double-A while the big-league team struggles. There's no need to rush.

With Rubio, the 2009-2010 Wolves would have won few games and drawn few fans. Without Rubio, the 2009-2010 Wolves will win few games and draw few fans. Rubio might have attracted a couple of curious crowds early in the season, but he wouldn't have changed the Wolves' plight, and knowing this franchise's luck, he may have won just enough extra games to ruin their chances in the next lottery.

Without Rubio, Jonny Flynn, a dynamic and personable rookie, will get a chance to learn to play the point in the NBA. If he's good enough, Kahn may have the option of trading either Flynn or Rubio.

Maybe, as Kahn has guessed, the two actually can play together successfully at some point.

Kahn's manner doesn't inspire confidence. You suspect he has expert witnesses lined up to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the sky is green. When you listen to him speak in that measured, calculating tone remindful of Jon Lovitz, it is difficult to avoid thinking that he is indeed "Kahn-descending."

Kahn, though, correctly judged this a franchise worthy of demolition. He replaced Kevin McHale and his cronies with what should at least be a hard-working, professional coaching staff of diverse skills and personalities. He chose Flynn, who may well prove to have been the most talented player available at No. 6.

Kahn also took a reasonable risk in selecting Rubio after Rubio fell to the fifth pick.

If you're a Wolves fan, you were going to have to be patient no matter what Kahn did this summer. Given that this promised to be a cross-country trek all along, you can afford another detour.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 6:40 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on AM-1500. His twitter name is SouhanStrib.

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