ricky rubio

According to multiple sources, Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio has agreed to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2011-2012 season. The team has yet to confirm the deal, and the assumption seems to be that is at least in part due to Rubio’s team still playing in the Euroleague playoffs right now. Whenever his team is eliminated, some type of official announcement should be made at that point.

Tuesday was the deadline for Rubio to sign with the team under the current terms of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, and thus the rookie wage scale in that agreement, and reports the two sides reached a deal on that day. The exact terms of the deal are unknown at this point.

Rubio was chosen by the Timberwolves #5 overall in 2009, despite a $6 million buyout from his contract with his Spanish league team that would have had to come out of his own pocket. The buyout was estimated at a little over $1 million this time around, and the Timberwolves could contribute $500,000 to it under NBA rules.

Rubio has not developed as expected while playing in Europe over the past two seasons, as he averaged just 6.5 points and 3.2 assists per game on 31 percent shooting this season for Regal Barcelona over 20 regular season games. But he may be able to make an easier transition to the NBA since guards are allowed a little more freedom to operate. There were also many reports of Rubio’s desire to play somewhere other than Minnesota if he played in the NBA, which could be understandable if he has any desire to extend his “brand” beyond the court.

Rubio is still just 20 years old, and is still fairly slight physically (6’4”, 180 lbs.). He will also have to prove he can shoot from the outside, as he only made 22.4 percent of his three pointers for Regal Barcelona this season, and he is also going to have to prove he hold up defensively against the NBA’s elite point guards. But the Timberwolves will certainly give the player vice president of basketball operations David Kahn has called a “virtuoso” and a “transformational” player plenty of playing time.

The implications of the Rubio signing could have far-reaching implications for the Timberwolves. If they choose not to retain head coach Kurt Rambis, their choice for his replacement would have to be on board with giving Rubio extended minutes and perhaps tolerating some growing pains. Also, the team’s draft strategy will certainly change if Duke’s Kyrie Irving happens to fall to them at #2 overall as they would not need a point guard.  Thirdly, the Rubio signing means Jonny Flynn, the #6 overall pick in 2009, is likely to be on the trading block now.

The threat of a lockout in the NBA heading into next season throws a wrench into things, but Rubio coming to the United States should at least give a floundering Timberwolves’ franchise some needed publicity.  Whether the headlines are good or bad beyond the news of his signing depends on how Rubio plays and how the team performs.