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Ricky Rubio

Manu Fernandez, Associated Press

Rubio's a playmaker, not a savior

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • June 3, 2011 - 11:40 AM

Weeks before he arrives in America and months until he throws a single no-look pass inside Target Center, Ricky Rubio -- with a few strokes of a pen -- has achieved the improbable, if not the impossible.

He has made the Timberwolves relevant again both here and afar.

Telephones buzzed at the team's offices Thursday with calls from consumers eager to hand over their cash, even though the Wolves won't acknowledge Rubio's signing to them or anyone else until his European season ends.

Every tentacle of ESPN's vast sports-media empire pulsed with Rubio news, a presence not seen there by a Timberwolf since Kevin Love's historic 30/30 game last fall.

Whether he can play a lick in the NBA remains to be discovered, but there's no question he is the most tantalizing point-guard prospect to arrive at 600 First Avenue since Stephon Marbury in 1996 (before he went crazy) and the franchise's first true rock-star presence since, well, never.

So other than that ... what does his arrival mean for a team that won 32 games the past two seasons?

Well, for starters, hope you said your farewells in April to Jonny Flynn, the point guard whom David Kahn drafted with the very next pick after drafting Rubio fifth overall in 2009.

Flynn -- discombobulated by Kurt Rambis' intricate coaching philosophies during both of his first two disappointing pro seasons, injured for much of that second year -- almost certainly will be traded sometime this month to make way for Rubio.

Rubio is the former Spanish teenage sensation -- he's 20 now, remember -- who has been a mop-topped prodigy playing professionally against men since he was 14.

Does that experience in the Euroleague -- the most skilled, rugged professional league in the world, next to the NBA -- guarantee Rubio will be handed the ball, and the keys to the franchise, whenever next season might begin?

Not exactly.

Expect to hear these words uttered by Kahn or perhaps Rubio himself when he is introduced at Target Center sometime after the Spanish finals' last scheduled game June 18: He's not a savior.

No, he's not.

Kahn and the Wolves will do all they can to diminish expectations for a playmaker Kahn himself called transformational and a virtuoso when he drafted him. Part of that could be a plan that will ease Rubio into the NBA world, unless he proves quickly that he otherwise is ready for it, by bringing him off the bench behind a veteran point guard who can start and mentor him.

That guy isn't Luke Ridnour.

The Wolves called Phoenix before the February trade deadline and inquired about two-time MVP Steve Nash. He'd be the perfect teacher, but it'd be a nearly impossible sell to convince him to leave Phoenix for Minnesota this late in his title-less career.

One more big question:

What about Kurt Rambis?

The Wolves played their last game more than six weeks ago and still Rambis' coaching future remains in doubt. Maybe Kahn waited for Rubio's decision before making his decision on Rambis, whose triangle-ish offense certainly doesn't emphasize the point guard.

Perhaps Kahn thought he was getting 1980s Showtime basketball rather than 1990s triangle offense when he hired Rambis away from the Los Angeles Lakers.

When you look at the team's roster as assembled these past two years -- Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Wes Johnson acquired, Kevin Love retained -- it clearly is being built around Rubio's unique vision, passing skills and open-court game. It's a team, in other words, built to run with a class of athletes Rubio hasn't played with before.

Becoming that team just might require a new coach or a transforming change in Rambis' philosophies.

Either way, Love went to bed the other night apparently promising to dream about his new teammate and perhaps a new day for the Timberwolves.

"Just thinking about pick and rolls ... goodnight," he tweeted before bedtime. "Pick ... N ... Rolls."

Jerry Zgoda • jzgoda@startribune.com

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