Rubio will remain in Europe for season

Associated Press and Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS – After saying all summer long that his preference was to play in the NBA, Ricky Rubio apparently got a case of cold feet at the last minute.

Less than 48 hours after the Timberwolves, Rubio’s agents and the Spanish team DKV Joventut agreed in principle on a deal to bring the 18-year-old point guard to Minnesota, Rubio changed his mind.

He told Timberwolves president David Kahn on Monday night that he wanted to stay in Spain for the next two years to better prepare for life in the NBA – a blow to a team that was hoping to have the popular passer on the court this fall.

‘Of course there’s disappointment, but I don’t think that disappointment should overshadow the big picture, which is, he’s still so young,’ Kahn said yesterday during a call from Spain, where he spent the weekend negotiating the deal. ‘It appears now we will have a two-year wait. But if you frame it as he’ll be 20 years old and he’ll have two more years to develop, I can think of a lot worse things to happen to us as a franchise.’

The Timberwolves drafted Rubio fifth overall in June, even though he was still under contract with DKV Joventut in a deal that included a $8.1 million buyout clause. Kahn made three trips to Spain over the summer to try and help Rubio’s representatives negotiate that number down, a process that was hindered by NBA guidelines limiting the amount of money Minnesota could contribute to $500,000.

Kahn said Rubio’s agent, Dan Fegan, delivered a package of endorsement deals and sponsorships that helped make the NBA deal attractive enough for Rubio and Joventut to enter into an agreement on Saturday night.

When Rubio backed out of the deal, DKV Joventut reluctantly agreed to trade him to rival Regal FC Barcelona, which will pay $5.3 million to buy out his contract. The buyout, Kahn said, is the largest in European basketball history.

In a statement, Joventut noted the ‘big effort’ by everyone to reach a deal.

‘In front of this situation, and in contradiction with what he has been saying to us and to Timberwolves’ representatives from time to time, the player has announced the decision that he wants to be transferred to FC Barcelona,’ the team said.

The deal with FC Barcelona requires Rubio to stay in Spain through the 2010-11 season, at which time the buyout price tag plummets to about $1.4 million. That’s a much more manageable number for Rubio to afford, but he said he was more concerned about being ready for the NBA.

‘The reason leading me to take this next step is to have a period of preparation to better take the challenge of the NBA in better conditions as a player,’ Rubio said in a statement. ‘The Minnesota Timberwolves continue to be my first option and I wish to play with them in the near future.’

So what changed between Saturday and Monday?

Kahn said Rubio and his family were receiving pressure from his Spanish national team teammates, members of the Spanish media and other people in their hometown to stay in Spain.

‘It’s just been a tough summer,’ Kahn said. ‘From an 18-year-old’s perspective and his family’s perspective, it was very nerve-racking.’

The decision saves Rubio money in the short term, but could bring long-term consequences, both on and off the court.

The Timberwolves will hold Rubio’s NBA rights as long as he is playing professionally. They also have rookie point guard Jonny Flynn, who was drafted No. 6 overall, right behind Rubio, to take over while Rubio is in Spain.

Flynn impressed at the Las Vegas summer league, and Kahn said he will likely be named the starter going into training camp.

‘I explained to (Rubio) that I can’t predict the future,’ Kahn said. ‘I did specifically mention that Jonny would be two years ahead of him. He understood that.’

When Rubio does come over, Kahn said he will be subject to the NBA rookie scale from this year. That means he’ll get a four-year deal worth more than $15 million and will be two years further away from the lucrative unrestricted free agent market.

Still, Kahn said he had no regrets about choosing a player many scouts have called the most exciting point guard to enter the draft in years.

‘No matter what our circumstances are two years from now,’ Kahn said, ‘I believe that he was the highest and best value pick we could have made the way things developed that night.’