Rubio watch: Can Ricky come out and play?

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2011 - 10:10 AM

The Wolves need Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, but does he need them?

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Ricky Rubio

Photo: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

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Ricky Rubio's anticipated arrival in Minnesota has been one never-ending, confounding soap opera since the night the Timberwolves drafted him fifth overall nearly two years ago. It could be almost over, but if he finally does leave his lovely hometown of Barcelona for the NBA, it, too, probably won't come quickly enough for Wolves fans.

Here's how it will -- or will not -- happen:

What: The NBA's current labor agreement includes a provision that, from Feb. 1 to May 31, allows a first-round draft pick playing elsewhere professionally "to enter into a rookie-scale contract" with his NBA team that begins the next season. By the way, May 31 is Tuesday.

What that means: Rubio by Tuesday can agree to terms with the Wolves on a future contract that would guarantee him the terms for a No. 5 overall pick under the league's current labor agreement.

Why he'd sign now: Two reasons...

No. 1: It will guarantee him a first-year salary approaching $3.5 million under the current rules. If he passes on that, he could conceivably lose millions in a new labor agreement in which owners are demanding big give-backs from the players.

No. 2: His career has not progressed in the two seasons since he turned down a chance to join the Wolves in the summer of 2009 and forced a transfer from his DKV Joventut team to Regal Barcelona in the Spanish league. If anything, it has regressed: A foot injury moved him to the bench for the current Spanish league playoffs in which, even with his foot better, he is still playing behind 27-year-old Victor Sada. Rubio averaged 6.5 points on 39.2 percent shooting, 3.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds this season in 20 Euroleague games, 17 of which he started. There's a chance Barcelona could transfer him to another European team next season if he doesn't leave for the NBA.

Why he wouldn't sign: Other reasons...

1. The threat of an almost certain NBA lockout could convince him to stay in Spain for at least one more season.

2. Under current NBA rules, he can bypass the rookie salary scale and be free to negotiate with the Wolves on his own terms if he doesn't sign within the first three seasons after he was drafted. There's no guarantee, though, that those rules will be the same when a new labor agreement is hammered out, particularly with Wolves owner Glen Taylor serving as chairman of the league's Board of Governors. And there's the chance if his career continues to head the way it is, he will lack the bargaining power a year from now to negotiate a supersized contract.

3. He doesn't want to play in Minnesota. Rubio's reticence when he was drafted by the Wolves and his decision to stay in Spain left many believing he never will agree to play here. But he has left himself open to the possibility in interviews during the past year and Wolves boss David Kahn publicly has remained confident Rubio will sign. The team retains his rights as long as he plays professionally elsewhere. He'd have to sit out an entire season to re-enter the NBA draft.

COMPLICATING FACTOR

Rubio's European season won't end until mid-to-late June, when the Spanish league playoffs conclude. So how do they sign him now while he's still under contract and playing for another team? Good question. The Wolves have invested years in this pursuit and have thoroughly researched Spanish law and likely believe they can sign him to a future contract contingent upon him exercising a $1 million-plus buyout with Regal Barcelona when its season ends.

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

Quite possibly, after 15- and 17-victory seasons, Kahn's job.

Kahn has much invested in Rubio. In fact, the success of the team's entire 2009 draft -- Kahn's first, one in which he inherited four first-round draft picks -- depends upon Rubio becoming, if not a savior, at least an NBA star point guard who makes his teammates better. Rubio, too, is tied to Kahn. Nobody will believe in him more and give him more of a chance than the guy who so needs him to succeed.

DROP-DEAD DEADLINE?

This isn't one. The Wolves still can sign him for the 2011-12 season even if they don't reach an agreement by Tuesday. Rubio still could exercise his Barcelona buyout and tell the Wolves he's eligible and willing to sign after July 1, if there's not a lockout. But that lockout probability could keep him in Europe for one more season if he doesn't commit to the Wolves now.

BEST BET

There has been so much secrecy and legal mumbo-jumbo in this whole ordeal, but ... it seems most likely the parties will reach a contract agreement now that finally brings Rubio to Minnesota. But don't expect an immediate announcement. That might not come for weeks until Regal Barcelona's season ends, because Rubio and his family don't want it to appear he's already headed out the door.

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