After two months of discussions that included three trips to Spain and more creative negotiating than a Cash for Clunkers trade-in, Timberwolves rookie G.M. David Kahn thought he had his man. That was until his man, 18-year-old Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, decided he preferred the comforts of home to a condo in Minneapolis. On Sept. 2, Rubio, the fifth pick in the June draft, rejected a transfer agreement between Minnesota and the Spanish League team that he played for last season, DKV Joventut. Instead he accepted a trade to crosstown rival Regal Barcelona, which signed him to a six-year deal. Says Kahn, "There is a tinge of disappointment, no question about it."
Rubio said he wants to spend at least two more years preparing for the NBA, but his decision may also have been motivated by a buyout clause in his Joventut contract, which could have cost him up to $5 million to move to Minnesota. Whatever his reasoning, Rubio's chances of ever wearing a T-Wolves jersey are slim. With the sixth pick Minnesota drafted Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn, the best rookie in the NBA's Las Vegas summer league. And last Friday the team signed Ramon Sessions, the Bucks' starting playmaker for part of last season, to a four-year, $16 million offer sheet.
Rubio's Barcelona contract will keep him there for two years, but a more manageable buyout clause (one million euros, or $1.4 million at today's conversion rate) kicks in for the 2011--12 NBA season. (Minnesota holds his rights as long as he plays professionally.) Expect Kahn to explore trades for Rubio as that date nears. "Teams are going to be after him," says a Western Conference executive. "A lot of people think this kid is going to be a star." A source close to Rubio told SI that if he is dealt, he'd prefer the Knicks, the Nets (assuming the Nets move to Brooklyn) or the Mavericks.
But will Rubio be ready to jump in 2011? If he stays in Spain until 2012, he won't be bound by the NBA's rookie salary scale, which applies to first-round picks for only three years after they're drafted. The maximum Rubio would have earned had he joined Minnesota now is $16.3 million over his first four seasons; by waiting until '12 he could snag a deal worth twice that. It's a possibility the source calls "very appealing."