Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.

In pursuit of Ricky Rubio

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda under Wolves management, Wolves players, Rookies, Wolves news Updated: May 4, 2011 - 9:21 PM

A Timberwolves contingent led by David Kahn are spending the next week in Spain for this weekend's Euroleague Final Four and to continue work they intend will get Ricky Rubio signed to a NBA contract within a month.

Rubio's Regal Barcelona team never made it to the Final Four scheduled for his hometown this year because it got beat out by Greece's Panathinaikos team in a playoff series in March.

But his team still has Spanish league play left during a European season that, like the NBA, never seems to end.

That fact could complicate the timing of a completed deal because Rubio must exercise a $1 million-plus buyout with his Barcelona team and because Rubio and his family don't want it to appear as if he already has a foot out the door to the NBA before his team's season concludes.

Whether Rubio will ever agree to play for the Wolves has been a matter of much discussion and doubt for nearly two years now.

Here's why he just might be ready to make the move to the NBA -- and thus to the Wolves, who own his league rights for as long as he continues to play professionally without sitting out an entire season -- now:

* His playing time and development has regressed rather than developed playing for a veteran-filled, championship-caliber team in his hometown.

* A provision in the NBA's soon-to-expire labor agreement with players allows him to sign under the current rookie scale by May 31 rather than gamble on what a new Collective Bargaining Agreement might look like for rookies, whenever they might be hammered out.

That new CBA could take some time.

Why would he sign now if there could a player lockout, perhaps a lengthy one?

No. 1: The security provided by signing under the current labor agreement rather than risk the new one.

No. 2: He has played professionally since he was 14, many years practically year round because of Spanish national team commitments to the Olympics, World and European championships. A rest until December or January -- or beyond -- wouldn't hurt him.

His agents have been working here in the U.S. on endorsement deals that will pay the contract buyout -- and probably then some -- with his Spanish team that was negotiated to be a reasonable sum when he signed with Regal Barcelona in September 2009 after Kahn had tirelessly worked out a much, much bigger buyout deal with Rubio's DKV Joventut team.

By NBA rules, the Wolves can contribute only $500,000 to such a buyout.

If money's an issue in Rubio's decision, it probably will influence him to take a guaranteed NBA wage scale rather than wait and see the outcome of what could be long, nasty labor negotiations.

Kahn, assistant general manager Tony Ronzone and international scout Pete Philo will be in Spain to visit draft prospects Nemanja Bjelica, Paolao Prestes and Henk Norel -- all of whom are with Spanish clubs -- and no doubt, but perhaps discretely, will continue discussions with Rubio and his camp. They'll also scout a tournament of top European junior players as well while they're there.

Ronzone and Philo went to Spain in February to expand the dialogue between the two parties and a Wolves representative met recently with Rubio's American agent in Los Angeles. 

The Wolves already have much invested in Rubio -- he alone is the only hope to save a 2009 draft in which they had four first-round picks that so far has delivered Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington and Martell Webster (obtained by trading a 2010 pick they acquired by trading 2009's 18th overall pick to Denver).

Kahn and Ronzone remained convinced that Rubio, despite his regression in European play, will thrive in a NBA game that is played at a faster pace and allows players -- particularly point guards who, because of NBA rules, can't be touched -- more freedom.

They also look at his resume with his Spanish pro teams and the country's national teams and consider him a winner, a pass-first player who makes his teammates better and his teams succeed.

 

 

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