Spanish guard Rubio will join Timberwolves

Published 9:32 am Friday, June 17, 2011

BARCELONA, Spain — Ricky Rubio is making his long-awaited move to the NBA and will join the Minnesota Timberwolves next season.

The highly touted 20-year-old Spanish guard ended two years of speculation Friday, saying “I have finally decided to start the journey” to the NBA.

“It is my dream and I want to fulfill it,” he said. “After thinking about it a lot, the time has arrived.”

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The Timberwolves chose Rubio with the No. 5 pick in the 2009 NBA draft. But his $6 million buyout clause at Barcelona — of which an NBA team could pay only $500,000 under league rules — made him stay in Spain until it came down to a more manageable $1.4 million.

“This is a day our organization and our fans have been eagerly awaiting from the moment we drafted him, and I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Ricky to Minnesota,” Wolves President David Kahn said in a statement Friday.

Since his debut in the Spanish league with Joventut when he was 14, Rubio has won numerous titles in Europe. He also helped Spain reach the 2008 Olympic final, a loss to the United States.

“I think all that I have won here gives me strength to go,” Rubio said.

But Rubio is coming off perhaps his most disappointing season. His scoring average dropped to 6.5 points and he even lost his starting spot with Barcelona.

Speaking at a news conference at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium — where Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola usually address the media — Rubio acknowledged his shortcomings.

“Individually, I could have done things better, but it is a team sport and we had success,” Rubio said, adding he was not going to the NBA in an attempt to revive his game.

“I am going because I feel prepared,” Rubio said. “I want to play against the best players in the world.”

Barcelona won the Spanish league title last week, and Rubio knows he might have to wait awhile for another trophy. Minnesota was an NBA-worst 17-65 last season and is in dire need of a capable point guard.

“It will mean a change of mentality,” Rubio said. “Perhaps we won’t be fighting for the title, but we will have other goals. I am willing to do whatever the team needs to win as many games as possible.”

The Timberwolves also have the second pick in next week’s draft and they should be able to add another player to ease Rubio’s transition.

Rubio said he hasn’t spoken with his new team about what his exact role will be, but he is sure they will want him to add more muscle on his lanky frame.

“The game is more physical (in the NBA),” he said. “I have to hit the weights and get stronger.”

Many had speculated that Rubio would try to force his way out of small-market Minnesota to play in a bigger city. But the Timberwolves never pressured the precocious teenager, delicately negotiating until Rubio decided the time was right.

In his last two seasons in Spain, Rubio averaged 5.9 points, 4.4 assists and 1.85 steals in 21.6 minutes. But the Timberwolves believe that Rubio is better suited to the NBA than the European game, which is played on smaller courts and doesn’t give guards as much room to operate on the perimeter.

“I like the NBA game as a spectator,” Rubio said. “It is very attractive and more open.”

Rubio will wear No. 9 for the Wolves, and the team unveiled a special season ticket package Friday to promote his arrival. Fans have been eager to see this flashy passer, and the Timberwolves announced a Ricky Rubio No. 9 package in which they can buy a pair of season tickets for next season for $9 a game.

“Ricky’s skill set and feel for the game have made him one of the best young players in Europe for six years now, and at age 20 he’s still a young player with a lot of upside,” Kahn said. “I expect Ricky to enjoy a long and successful career here in Minnesota.”

AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.