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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rubio set for jump to NBA


MINNEAPOLIS — When David Kahn drafted Ricky Rubio in 2009, he called the Spanish teenager "a virtuoso" and told Minnesota season-ticket holders that he would "be our starting point guard here the moment he walks through our front door."

Now that Rubio has finally committed to joining the Timberwolves, Kahn has changed his tune a bit.

Kahn, the team president, is trying to manage expectations for a player who will likely need time to adapt to a new culture and new style of play. At the same time, the business side of the woeful T-Wolves is trying to capitalize on a rare bit of good news.

Rubio officially announced in Barcelona on Friday that he would exercise a buyout of his contract and come to the NBA. A few hours later, Kahn tried to temper the soaring expectations from a fan base eagerly awaiting Rubio's arrival.

"I think it's very important, and you'll probably here me say this constantly starting today and then throughout the summer and maybe even into next fall, it's very important to me and I think for him to know that we not start getting ahead of ourselves," Kahn said.

Rubio, he added, must be "allowed to break into the league just as any rookie would."

The Timberwolves drafted Rubio with the fifth overall pick in 2009, but an enormous buyout clause with his first Spanish pro team forced him to stay in Spain for two more years. After helping Barcelona to the Spanish ACB championship this week, he announced: "I have finally decided to start the journey" to the NBA.

"It is my dream and I want to fulfill it," Rubio said. "After thinking about it a lot, the time has arrived."

Not a moment too soon for the reeling Timberwolves, who have won just 32 games in the last two seasons and desperately need an injection of energy. It will come in the form of a slick-passing, floppy-haired point guard who is generating as much interest locally for the mystery that surrounds his game as anything else.

Kahn said Rubio is a little concerned that he is being viewed as a savior by fans, and his new boss may be partly to blame for that. Kahn wrote a letter to ticket holders two years ago saying that Rubio "has the chance to become one of basketball's brightest stars."

"You've seen the highlights," Kahn wrote then, "he is like an orchestra conductor with the basketball."

On Friday, Kahn said that he wouldn't be the one to decide if Rubio started right away. That will be up to the coach.

"I don't know what his defined role will be next year," Kahn said. "But there's no question in my mind that he will play next year and he will play significant minutes."

Kahn lauded the support he received from Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, Rubio's agent Dan Fegan and the rest of the Timberwolves basketball staff — which includes assistant GM Tony Ronzone and scout Pete Philo, who both have deep ties in Europe — for helping to get the deal done.

"There will be expectations just because of who he is. He's a flashy kid," Ronzone said. "But we're not putting expectations on him. In fact, we want to lower them because anytime you come to the States it's going to be an adjustment.

"He's playing a position that has a lot of attention on him. He's got to handle the ball, make decisions all the time. We'll handle that as a staff and as an organization."

That doesn't mean the T-Wolves don't have high hopes for him. The franchise has struggled mightily to find a capable point guard ever since Sam Cassell was traded in 2005.

Since his debut with Joventut when he was 14, Rubio has won numerous titles in Europe. He also helped Spain reach the 2008 Olympic final, a loss to the United States.

"I think all that I have won here gives me strength to go," Rubio said.

But Rubio is coming off perhaps his most disappointing season. His scoring average dropped to 6.5 points and he even lost his starting spot with Barcelona. Rubio acknowledged his shortcomings.

"Individually, I could have done things better, but it is a team sport and we had success," Rubio said, adding he was not going to the NBA in an attempt to revive his game.

"I am going because I feel prepared," Rubio said. "I want to play against the best players in the world."

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