Ricky Rubio's next milestone is four weeks out, when he can lose the crutches he already has started to hate.
Thinking beyond that is too hard, at least right now. The Timberwolves rookie guard admits he worries whether he'll be the player he was before tearing two ligaments in his left knee. And he made no promises Tuesday about being back in time for training camp this fall.
With his mother in the audience and those crutches leaning against the wall, Rubio talked publicly for the first time since hurting his knee March 9 against the Lakers.
Rubio was engaging but understated. He was candid about both his hopes and his fears. And that includes the nagging doubts that come to everyone who has had major reconstructive knee surgery:
Will he come back 100 percent?
"Of course you always think in your mind about what can happen," said Rubio, who was operated on by Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., on March 21. "Especially the first couple days after surgery, when you can't move your knee. You just think about it, and think if you can come back. But you have to be strong and do your best and try to come back even harder. I love basketball. I love playing basketball, and I'm going to do my best to play again."
Rubio said surgery went well, he remains confident in his recovery and has become even more so after consulting with other athletes who have been through the same process.
But he didn't want to set a date for his return. Indeed, Rubio -- who talked about the pain of his initial post-surgery rehabilitation -- repeated his intent to look no further than a month out. In four weeks he will have a checkup in Vail with Steadman.
Rubio mentioned the six- to nine-month timeline more than once, and wouldn't say where he felt he'd fall on that continuum.
"I don't know if it's going to be training camp," Rubio said of his return. "I don't know when I'm going to come back. But the most important thing, the first thing that I want to make sure of is when I come back I'm 100 percent. I don't know if it's training camp. I don't know if it's the first week, second week [of the season]. I don't want to put a date. It depends how my knee feels."
That, of course, is the paramount issue. The Wolves had won three consecutive games and were in playoff contention heading into the March 9 game with the Lakers. That night, in the closing moments, guarding Kobe Bryant on an inbound play, Rubio hurt his left knee. After leading all NBA rookies in assists, minutes and steals, Rubio's season was over.
Since that night the Wolves have won just four of 16 games.
Rubio said he didn't think the injury was that severe in the moments after it happened.
"I was thinking it hurts," he said. "I didn't think it hurts to be out six, eight, nine months. When they explained the injury I had, [I] was sad, mad. But after seeing the support from my teammates, all players from the league and everybody, I [felt] good. I knew it would be a long process. I just have to be positive."
Rubio, who recently returned from Vail, was at Target Center for the Wolves' loss to Phoenix on Monday.
"He's doing well," All-Star forward Kevin Love said. "I was happy to see him. Hopefully he'll have a speedy, quick recovery. When everyone's healthy we're better."
Rubio will remain in the Twin Cities for the next month, then get his knee re-examined. He didn't say where he would conduct his rehab over the summer, but sounded like he was leaning towards returning to Spain.
It has been hard for Rubio to see the Wolves struggle. The team has had to deal with a litany of injuries.
"We are a young team," he said. "We have to learn a lot of things. We have to finish hard this season, show everybody what we can do for next season."
As for Rubio? He thanked the players around the league who showed their support after the injury. He thanked the fans, his teammates, the Wolves organization.
"I was sad, I was mad, because I was injured," he said. "But I was happy to see all the people helping me. ... People who were idols for me, like Kevin Durant or Dwyane Wade. Or [fans] wishing me a good recovery. They are with me, and that helps me a lot."
But now it's up to Rubio to put in the work to get back on the court.
"You have to come back hard," he said. "I just want to make sure I do my best to come back strong."