Souhan: Even if he doesn't become a star, Rubio offers hope, relevance

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2011 - 1:18 PM

It's hard to imagine Rubio transforming himself from a Spanish league backup into an NBA star, but maybe his arrival will signal or coincide with an era of good luck and player development for the Wolves.

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Ricky Rubio

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Congratulations, Timberwolves.

Today, you are the most interesting team in Minnesota.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and in Minnesota sports, signing a young backup point guard averaging 6.5 points and 3.6 assists per game in an inferior league makes you the talk of the Cities.

Around here, "interesting" is the new "winning."

The Twins can't catch a foul ball, Vikings veterans won't show up for their rookie quarterback's workouts and the Wild hasn't been heard from since firing the coach almost two months ago.

The Wolves, no matter how inept and dysfunctional they are, have one advantage over those teams: They do not fear bold decisions, no matter how many bold decisions backfire on them.

They are the woman who continues to date bad boys, even though she's sick of visiting her exes in prison.

The Wolves are not afraid to gamble, even if gambling means David Kahn stealing Glen Taylor's American Express Black Card and sneaking away to Vegas to place prop bets on professional wrestling.

Now Kahn has landed Ricky Rubio, the Spanish point guard he took with the fifth pick in the 2009 draft.

I watched Rubio play point guard for the Spanish Olympic team in Beijing in the 2008 Olympics, and he performed smoothly in the gold medal game against the loaded USA team. He was promising and impressive and then the Wolves drafted him, and he became stricken with Ebi-itis, the disease that slowly sucks the life from young basketball players.

Someday, someone will ask why an Indian burial ground seems so haunted, and someone will say, "Because it was built over Target Center."

Rubio can handle the ball and should improve if he works on his strength and shooting. In other words, he's like a lot of 20-year-old guards.

Typical of the Wolves, though, they didn't invest in just any post-pubescent prospect. They invested in the most mysterious player available, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma based in a foreign country. He's like the Yeti, often spoken of and glimpsed only from afar, except the Yeti has a better shooting percentage.

While it seems irrational to base hope for improvement on the shoulders of a kid who couldn't even start for his Spanish team, you have to admit the Wolves are now more intriguing than they were two days ago.

Let's presume for a moment that Kahn knows what he's doing, that signing Rubio is not just a desperate attempt to salvage value from his horrendous 2009 draft. Let's presume for a moment that Rubio will develop into the kind of mystical point guard who makes all of his teammates better, and fills a position that has resembled a landfill since Sam Cassell quit on this team in 2004-05.

Let's say the Wolves draft Derrick Williams in June, and he becomes a star.

Close your eyes (always the best way to watch the Wolves) and imagine a day when Rubio is leading a fast break with Williams on one wing, an improved Wes Johnson on the other, with Kevin Love trailing and Darko Milicic standing in the corner smoking a cigarette.

Could the arrival of Rubio become some sort of turning point, toward competence if not championships?

If Kahn has any ability to run a team, it could be, for three reasons:

• Even if Rubio isn't a dynamic NBA player, any player who can run an offense will be a major upgrade on this squad.

• The second pick in the draft gives Kahn a chance either to draft the talented Williams, or deal for a veteran. Either move could dramatically improve this team.

• Kahn has an opportunity to fire Kurt Rambis and hire a coach who is not married to the triangle offense and who can help young players develop.

As pathetic as the Wolves have been for years, they play in a league where one good coach and a few good young players can make a move.

It wasn't long ago that the Memphis Grizzlies looked nearly as hopeless as the Wolves. Then the Grizzlies developed a point guard (Michael Conley), landed an irrepressible inside player (Zach Randolph) and hired the right coach (Lionel Hollins). Even without supposed franchise player Rudy Gay, they beat the Spurs in the playoffs this spring.

The Wolves' greatest asset is the nature of their sport: Even the worst NBA franchises are a couple of deft or lucky moves away from competitiveness.

It's hard to imagine Rubio transforming himself from a Spanish league backup into an NBA star, but maybe his arrival will signal or coincide with an era of good luck and player development for the Wolves.

If not, at least Rubio offers a little hope and mystery in the midst of a dismal summer, and a little hope and mystery put the Wolves way ahead of their local competition.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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