Thoughts on Ricky Rubio

Kurt —  June 30, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
A couple years ago I got to meet and hang out with Xavier, FB&G’s defacto European corrispondent, and at the time he said I needed to see more of this 16 year old named Ricky Rubio. Now, Rubio and his future plans are the talk of the NBA, and Xavier (a professional youth team coach) kindly has provided us a perspective from Spain on the player and everything going on around him.

Since Ricky Rubio said he was planning to enter the 09 NBA draft I’ve been reading plenty of things about him, some of which I do not agree with. I’ve wanted to talk about him since before the playoff started but the Lakers where on the championship run and Rubio was not in team’s plan I decided to postpone this conversation to a better time. I think this time has come.

First of all, on the court basketball. Rubio is not NBA ready. He has incredible talent, feel for the game and has been playing pro since he was 15, 4 years ago. I read somewhere he has zero althletic ability and the PG transition from college to NBA is tough but from FIBA ball to NBA is even harder. Not every PG hits the league as ready as Rose or Paul. His shooting mechanic scares me, a lot; he has to work on it. Of course his shooting is a concern but so was Calderon’s and look at him right now. Ricky is the kind of kid that would hardly make the rookie all-star team but probably be starting with the sophomores a year later. I have no doubt that Ricky is the second best thing of this draft. He won’t save any franchise, nor will Griffin, but in this weak draft those two are the cream of the crop. Minnesota or the team that finally signs him if he makes it to the NBA, will have a gem to work on, but have to understand that his first year will be a transition year, he’s very young and will take a big leap upwards by his second NBA season. In the future I could see him being an above average defensive PG, Nash-like passing skills but not as close as a shooter.

But then there is the off court issue. Things could have been done better, for sure, but the situation is at a point that is impossible to go back.

The buyout issue: Back when he was 15, Ricky signed his first professional contract that settled a high buyout along with a high salary for a 15-year-old boy, which he approved. Joventut is mostly a club that creates players, finds them at 11-12 and teaches them basketball so they can someday play on the senior team (for the record, two Joventud players have been drafted this year in the first round, Rubio and Eyenga, and also Henk Norel in the second round, Rudy Fernández has also been raised in Joventud youth teams). The buyout is like a security for the team that all the money invested in raising the player will not be lost whenever a richer club comes and pays a few bucks for the kid. During 08 summer, Ricky asked the team to reduce the buyout. There were rumors of other top European teams trying to sign Rubio and Joventut offered him to lower by the half his NBA buyout by doubling the money an European team should pay. Rubio didn’t accept that saying he was planning to complete the whole contract with the team. A year later, he denounced the team that has created him for not lowering the buyout to let him play in the NBA. His agent says that his salary is too cheap compared with the high buyout. Usually, it’s the new team that pays the buyout or a compensation agreed with the club, but as the NBA do not allow teams to pay it, the player has to clear that issue. A friendly agreement was arranged last year with Rudy Fernández but after this public denouncing a friendly ending seems almost impossible.

Being the 5th selection: That was really a kick in his balls. If Minnesota jumped on the 2nd pick and drafted him there would be no problem (unless the second was Memphis where he wanted nothing to do with them, his feelings are that Mayo is Memphis PG of the future plus other Spaniards with similar winning mentality as him having trouble there). Don’t make any issue about the “Minnesota is cold” thing. He also said about OKC that his best friend lives nearby. As I read that I talked to that friend. After the conversation I had the impression that the answers where just that, quick answers. The important thing here is the money. Being a 2nd or 3rd pick guaranteed him an easy buyout payment in the case a friendly arrangement wasn’t possible. The 4th pick had more problems but he liked the situation for him (few pressure, nice weather and still an interesting contract) but then Sacramento took Evans and Sota just drafted the PG they wanted right after him. That doesn’t give him confidence. How would you feel if you had to pay to take a job and your new company just hired someone to do the same exact thing as you? With his contract set by the 5th pick, his chances of paying the buyout and still make some money rely on playing on a big city team where he could sign for bigger sponsor endorsements. But the reason the Kings or the Thunder didn’t select him is Dan Fegan. Rubio did few workouts because of his agent. A big buyout from Spain and no possibility to really test the kid against other players is what kept the Kings perfect fit away from him. His aggressiveness and bad ways were well reported as happened with Yi. When I found out that Rubio signed with Fegan my first thought was “Oooh god, that’s gonna be ugly”.

The future: in coming days we’ll know what the judge say about the buyout issue. That will determine how hard will it be to be free from Joventut. Coming back to his longtime club seems unlikely as team president said, “asking a judge to take part opens a wound which remains open” so he’ll probably be looking for another Euro team (Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Unicaja Malaga are considered frontrunners) or signing with the Wolves or the NBA team that hold his rights.

I’m a Joventut season ticket holder, I coach for the youth program that developed Ricky before he went to Joventut. I’ve seen a lot of this kid and he deserves being in the NBA. I fully understand that he doesn’t want to go to a losing team or a team he feels he don’t fit if he has to pay for it and I really wish him the best, but I’m not happy with how the things have evolved. Both Spanish and American agents have done a bad job and the kid is paying for it.