As expected, the Basketball Jonas has signed with FC Barcelona, meaning he'll join the NBA in 2011, at the earliest. This is bad news for basketball fans and Gillette's marketing department but maybe — maybe — not David Kahn's Timberwolves.
Kahn, who is either very smart or very stupid, made three trips to Spain and now claims he had a deal with Rubio that the 18-year-old backed out of Monday night. That seems a little unlikely, given Kahn's failed efforts to persuade Rubio's previous team, DKV Joventut, to lower its $8 million buyout price, toward which the Timberwolves could contribute only $500,000. (Had he signed with the Timberwolves, Rubio, the fifth pick in this year's draft, would've spent his first two seasons in the NBA as an outrageously talented volunteer point guard.) In any case, Rubio now has a six-year deal with FC Barcelona that will allow him to leave for the NBA in two seasons, and Kahn will continue to look like a man operating from whatever manual Kevin McHale used to drive the franchise into a ditch. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski called the move "devastating for the franchise's new regime."
But maybe it won't be. Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton points out that the Rubio who washes up on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in two years will be a more polished product — one with no time elapsed on his NBA service clock.
Given all the hand-wringing we usually hear about young players entering the NBA unprepared, how can it be considered a bad thing that Rubio will spend the next two years developing and maturing physically in Spain on Barca's dime? When he does come over, Rubio will be better prepared to contribute immediately. He'll also be (essentially) the same price. By waiting two years to bring Rubio over, the Timberwolves will get his age-21 through age-24 seasons on his rookie contract, as opposed to having to begin paying him market value at the age of 23. In the long term, this is a financial boon for Minnesota.
Part of Rubio's appeal right now is that he remains largely unformed, a vague collection of floppy hair and YouTube clips — a player to build a dream on. I saw comparisons to Pistol Pete. I saw comparisons to Charlie Ward. There was something sort of exciting about a player entering the NBA as a total mystery, which never happens anymore. It made him valuable both as a marketing phenomenon and, after the draft, even with all the buyout complications, as a trading chip. In two years, Minnesota will have a much better idea of what it's getting in Rubio, and if what it's getting turns out to be Charlie Ward, he will be neither marketable nor tradable, and the only question remaining about Kahn will be if Timberwolves fans want to run him out of town on a pole or a rail.