The Timberwolves were so excited to hire David Kahn to run their floundering hoops club in May 2009 that he was given the title as “president” of basketball operations.
A month later, Kahn had back-to-back early selections in the NBA draft. He took point guard Ricky Rubio from Spain at No. 5, followed by point guard Jonny Flynn from Syracuse at No. 6.
In classic second-guessing, there has been a degree of criticism aimed at Kahn for selecting Flynn and leaving another point guard, Steph Curry, to be taken at No. 7 by Golden State.
The problem with Rubio was that he was 18 when drafted, was under contract with a Spanish team and not available to play for the Timberwolves for two seasons. Conversely, the problem with Flynn was he was able to play for the Timberwolves for two seasons.
The small group of NBA junkies in the Twin Cities monitored Rubio’s play whenever his international games were played. There were some concerns when his minutes were limited at times for Spain’s national team.
We wrote that off to a coach’s preference for his veteran players and waited anxiously for the day Ricky would come to stay. That occurred on June 20, 2011, and three days later, Flynn was included in a trade to the Houston Rockets.
The Wolves enthusiastically promoted Rubio’s long-awaited arrival, and a portion of the airport wound up crowded with fans to greet him.
I was co-hosting a midday sports radio show with Phil Mackey on AM-1500 and we unanimously approved of this audio prank:
It would be revealed we had a reporter on site, and he was giving updates on Ricky’s plane as it slowed on its approach, and then we played Herbert Morrison’s grief-stricken radio description of the Hindenburg airship crash on May 6, 1937, in New Jersey.
Ricky already had enough Minnesota fans without ever showing his skills here that we received a well-balanced sample of complaints: Older folks who didn’t think Hindenburg jokes were funny and younger ones who didn’t know what in Hades was going on.
The first 16 games of the 2011-12 schedule were wiped out by a labor dispute and the Wolves’ first game was on Dec. 26.
Rubio couldn’t shoot, but he possessed the rest of what’s now old-style point guard skills — see the court on the break, pass accurately inside or to the corners and play some defense.
The Wolves, out of the playoffs since 2004, were 21-19 when the Lakers came to Target Center on March 9. The crowd was announced at 20,164, and every Rubio assist, every upcourt dash, was greeted with exuberance.
Late in the game, Rubio was defending and his knee popped, and 20 grand worth of people groaned and then hushed. He underwent surgery and missed the rest of the season.
The Wolves lost that night to L.A. 105-102 and finished 26-40.
There was a discussion earlier this week. The topic was the rare moments in their 31 seasons that the Wolves have been close to capturing a sizable share of Minnesota sports fans’ passion.
There were the obvious moments in the early 2000s, when the Wolves climbed upward and finally finished as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in 2004. They won their only two playoff series — Denver, then Sacramento — before losing in six games in the Western finals to Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers.
I mentioned three other moments when the Wolves inspired genuine excitement: There was draft night in 1996, when they wound up with point guard Steph Marbury to team with Kevin Garnett, and instantly we envisioned a second Malone-Stockton combo in our midst.
I mentioned the night in late June 2017 when Tom Thibodeau pulled off the trade for Jimmy Butler. What! The Wolves had traded for a star, rather than trading away another one.
That turned into one brief playoff appearance, then blew up.
The other occasion mentioned was that March night in 2012, when Target Center was full and roaring, and Ricky blew out his knee and the newness and excitement of his arrival was never recaptured.
We always loved the guy, though. Exciting as the Butler acquisition was, Thibodeau’s popularity waned considerably when he ran off Ricky and brought in Jeff Teague to dribble to nowhere as the point guard.
The Ricky we noted in Utah for two seasons and in Phoenix for one was the highest-scoring and best shooting Ricky ever — not light it up, just better, just good enough.
And on Wednesday night, when the Wolves had the No. 1 overall choice for the second time, selecting the 6-5, 19-year-old rock of a man-child, Georgia guard Anthony Edwards, the biggest news of the night for “casual” Wolves followers, came soon thereafter:
Ricky Rubio, just turned 30, was coming back to Minnesota through a trade with Oklahoma City.
Analytical minds will wonder how he will share the basketball when in tandem with starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, but that’s what Ricky does best. He’ll think of something.