International flights. Contract negotiations. Adidas spots. Friendly wagers with teammates. The departure of a friend and valuable teammate.
The typical NBA offseason isn’t always the months of low-key rest and relaxation it could be made out to be. And Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio’s "break" between 2013-14 and ’14-15 has been busier than most.
Anticipating his fourth NBA season, the 23-year-old from Barcelona is back in his home country this month preparing for the FIBA World Cup — basketball’s version of the FIFA extravaganza, which Rubio also attended this summer. In between, he’s been the subject of contract discussion between Minnesota president Flip Saunders and agent Dan Fegan, spent time in Spain, the United States and elsewhere and watched as power forward Kevin Love’s time with the Wolves comes to an impending conclusion.
Rubio was obviously disappointed in the aftermath of a 40-42 season that saw Minnesota miss the playoffs for a 10th straight year — enough that he questioned the leadership of Love in a May 10 interview with BasketAmericano.com. Love told the Wolves this offseason he wants out and is set to be traded to Cleveland on Aug. 23 in exchange for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013 top selection Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round pick.
"He is our leader in points and other things," Rubio said of the three-time All-Star, "but in voice he is not the player he can be or wants to be."
But that was in the emotional context of a season that saw Rubio draw heavy criticism for his shooting’s own shortcomings. Although he led the league in steals and ranked second in assists, Rubio shot just 38.1 percent from the floor and scored a career-low 9.5 points per game.
While watching the Spurs beat Miami in the NBA Finals — "What a team," Rubio tweeted June 15 after series-deciding Game 6 — Rubio made it clear where he still stands on the A-topic of Minnesota’s summer.
"I don’t want to convince him if he doesn’t want to stay," Rubio told NBA.com on June 8. "But I want him to stay and I’m going to tell him what I think, which is we’ve been improving every year and he’s a great player, he helps us a lot. I think we need to make the next step.
"If he leaves, it’s going to be painful because he’s a main guy. But it depends what we get back for him. We’ll see what we can do. I don’t think going through a rebuild year is going to help us because we’ve been improving every year and now we’re so close to making the playoffs that it doesn’t make sense to rebuild it again. It’s not continuing what we were doing."
It likely won’t be known until media day this fall what Rubio thinks of the franchise’s new direction under Saunders, who named himself coach in the wake of Rick Adelman’s retirement, and owner Glen Taylor following Love’s departure.
That could be affected by his camp’s own continuing conversations with Wolves brass.
Starting July 1, the two sides were allowed to negotiate an extension of Rubio’s rookie contract. If Fegan and Saunders don’t reach an agreement by Oct. 31, Rubio would play out this season and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Fegan will push for the five-year, "designated player" maximum that would start Rubio off at about $14.7 million, especially with Love and his salary out of the picture. Saunders, though, isn’t likely to yield such a sum.
Rubio’s tried not to concern himself with the discussions, he said. "I’m not thinking about my contract right now," he told Sportando last month. "Of course, I speak with my agent and I’m trying to understand what’s the situation, but the new contract, it’s a thing about my agent, not about me."
He hasn’t been short on other things to keep him occupied, anyway.
After the NBA season, Rubio flew back to Barcelona to be with his family and watch his sister, Laia, one of Spain’s up-and-coming female hoops prospects, compete for the Catalan regional team. In early June, he attended the NBA’s Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy before returning stateside for some offseason workouts in California.
Then came a trip to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup, where he could be seen bouncing around Rio de Janeiro in an Argentina jersey and shorts, enjoying the spectacle and doing some promotions for Adidas along the way.
"Wonderful trip," Rubio tweeted June 27, shortly before leaving behind the temporary soccer capital of the world.
And since July 29, he’s been training with Spain to make a run at the top international championship basketball has to offer aside from the Olympics.
Spain is the host country for what used to be tabbed the FIBA World Championship, now in its 17th rendition, that begins Aug. 30 and concludes Sept. 14. Rubio’s vast international experience includes silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, gold at the 2009 FIBA European Championships and bronze at last year’s EuroBasket championship tournament.
Rubio missed the 2012 London Olympics with the torn ACL that cost him parts of his first two NBA seasons.
International competition, despite the risk it poses to NBA assets, remains important to Rubio after growing up as the darling of Spanish professional hoops. But he’s carved out some time for a little fun, too.
In a friendly tune-up game between Spain and Senegal over the weekend, Rubio bet Wolves teammate Gorgui Dieng dinner that his team would beat the center and his countrymen. Team Rubio crushed Dieng and company, 88-49, and Rubio forced Dieng to pay up.
He even tweeted a photo of himself gliding past Dieng for a layup in the game.
"Dinner on me tonight son @rickyrubio9 lol," Dieng tweeted. "Way to play tho. You are a beast!"