Ricky Rubio knows once you sign a contract in free agency without a no-trade clause, you’re at the mercy of the business of the NBA.
So after spending a season in Phoenix, Rubio was on his way to Oklahoma City once the Suns acquired Chris Paul. But spending the remaining two years of his three-year deal with the Thunder didn’t sound like the most appetizing option.
“It’s another rebuilding process where I’ve been way too many times,” Rubio said. “It was something that I felt like I’m in the prime of my career and I have to take advantage of that.”
After some conversations with his agent and the accommodating Thunder, Rubio was on his way back to Minnesota — even if it still doesn’t quite feel like returning home thanks to the breakneck pace of the trades and the changes in lifestyle COVID-19 has brought.
“It’s a little weird,” Rubio said Tuesday as the Wolves began individual workouts at the outset of training camp. “I walk downtown and all restaurants are closed. We can’t really practice as a team. We can’t really hang out and do stuff off the court either. But it’s the time we live. We have to adapt.”
Rubio, 30, enters a different Wolves organization than the one he entered 11 years ago. It’s one that is trying to adapt to the modern pace-and-space, three-point heavy NBA.
Rubio is also entering, according to him, his career prime. He doesn’t view the Wolves, one of the worst teams in the league last season, the same way he viewed the Thunder, with a treasure trove of draft picks that hint its time for contention is years away.
“I don’t feel like we’re in a rebuilding process,” Rubio said. “We’re a couple steps ahead. We’re already making things happen. With [D’Angelo Russell] and [Karl-Anthony Towns] hitting their five years in the league, they still have a lot of room to improve, but I feel like they learned a lot. It’s not like a young corps where they don’t know how this league goes.”
Rubio figures to have a prominent role with the Wolves, but they already have a lead ballhandler in Russell. However, the Wolves aren’t shying away from having two primary ballhandlers on the floor at a time. Coach Ryan Saunders said Tuesday the Wolves won’t hesitate to play Rubio and Russell together.
Rubio didn’t sound over the moon at the thought of potentially coming off the bench, but he would do it and not complain. Rubio said he learned a lot from his time in Utah watching Derrick Favors, a typical starter who would sometimes come off the bench without complaint.
“He didn’t say a word,” Rubio said. “He kept working and … at the end of the day we won. That’s what you care about. You have to sacrifice something for the best, for the team.
“If it’s coming off the bench, would I like it? No. I wouldn’t like it, I will be honest. But I will be willing to do it for the best of the team.”
That attitude illustrates part of why the Wolves brought Rubio to this young team — leadership and mentorship. They watched closely as Rubio helped Donovan Mitchell blossom in Utah and are hoping he can do the same for someone such as No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards. Rubio knows how it feels to have something Edwards is going to face — large expectations playing basketball in Minnesota.
Rubio was able to connect with fans here thanks to his work ethic and personality. Now he wants to pass that on to a new generation of Wolves the team hopes will grow up in his image.
“At the end of the day, I think the players listen more to other players than the coach himself,” Rubio said. “I feel like having good veterans like I had during my career really helped me improve my game and know the situation that we are. When you’re a youngster, you believe that everything has to go super fast, especially the kids right now, they have Instagram, they have everything they want right now. It seems like success has to happen right away. I feel like it can really help through all the ups and downs that the season has as a team.”