MINNEAPOLIS — Turns out the Timberwolves were able to lock up their new, de facto face of the franchise, after all.
The team announced Friday night — mere hours before the 11 p.m. deadline — it has signed Ricky Rubio to a multiyear extension. According to FOX Sports 1 NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the deal is worth four years and $55 million.
Rubio would’ve become a restricted free agent after this season had the sides not agreed, and it appeared for much of the offseason that’s what it would come to. But Rubio’s agent Dan Fegan and Wolves president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders stood on common ground by the 11th hour.
"We are excited to sign Ricky to a contract extension and keep him as a foundation for years to come," Saunders said in a press release announcing the signing. "He is annually among the league leaders in assists and steals, and his intangibles make him a very valuable player to our team. Ricky is only in his fourth season and because of his work ethic and determination, we are confident that he will continue to grow as a player and a team leader. We look forward to many great years ahead of Ricky in a Timberwolves uniform."
Fegan had been pushing for a five-year-maximum, "designated player" deal that would’ve started Rubio out at around $16 million. That number could’ve increased exponentially with the NBA’s TV deal kicking in for the 2016-17 season. That deal still helped Rubio, assuring the Wolves they’ll have plenty of room to pay him while maintaining flexibility for the rest of the payroll as the salary cap rises.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s original offer clocked in at four years and about $48 million, per reports.
It’s thought that former president of basketball ops David Kahn, who drafted Rubio fifth overall in 2009, had Rubio in mind as the club’s one allowed designated player when he withheld the max from Kevin Love in 2012. Per the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, teams can have no more than one player they’ve extended for an extra year on the roster at one time.
As early as last season, it became clear Saunders and the front office weren’t interested in offering the max. Rubio shot 38.1 percent from the floor and averaged a career-low 9.5 points per game in his first full NBA season.
Until he becomes more of a scoring threat, then, Rubio — a career 36.8-percent shooter — is unlikely to be considered an elite point guard.
But he is one of the game’s best distributors, averaging 8.1 assists per game in his three completed NBA seasons, which ranks fourth in the league during that time. Rubio’s 2.3 steals per game last year were second in the league.
Furthermore, the Wolves weren’t about to put themselves into a situation similar to what transpired with Kevin Love the past two seasons. After being passed over for the max, Love forced his way out of town via a trade to Cleveland that netted Minnesota Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young.
With Love gone, Rubio is the organization’s pillar player, at least until Wiggins, Bennett or one of the Wolves’ other youngsters assumes that mantle.
"I am happy to be staying with the Wolves and look forward to many successful seasons in Minnesota," Rubio said. "Our fans have been great and I am excited to be able to play in front of them for many years. I will continue to work hard to improve my game and help our team get better."
Multiple media sources indicate Rubio’s contract includes an additional $1 million in incentives.
Rubio has a strong relationship with owner Glen Taylor and a budding one with Saunders, a former point guard himself. General manager Milt Newton said before training camp the team hopes to retain "good will" with Rubio and his camp moving forward.
"This has been a long process and I am thrilled that we have reached an agreement," owner Glen Taylor said. "We drafted Ricky over three years ago and had to wait two years for him to come over. He came to us with such high expectations and he immediately proved why we were so high on him. Unfortunately he got hurt at the end of his rookie season (an ACL injury that cost Rubio part of his first two NBA campaigns), but he has worked so hard to come back and we believe he has a long and successful career ahead of him. He’s a great foundation for our franchise and we’re very happy to keep Ricky here long term to work and grow with the young nucleus that we have."
Other NBA guards’ new deals surely came up in the negotiating process. From Rubio’s standpoint, his is relatively lucrative.
Earlier Friday, Utah and Alec Burks signed off on a four-year deal worth four years and $42 million. Fellow point guard Kemba Walker and the Hornets agreed to a four-year $48 million contract Thursday. And earlier in the offseason, Kyle Lowry signed a deal to stay in Toronto for the same amount.
Walker and Lowry are better scorers than Rubio at this point in their careers, but Burks — a fourth-year player like Rubio — has started just 14 games in his career. Rubio started all 82 of Minnesota’s games last season alone, so the Burks deal set the floor for what Rubio could earn.
Rubio’s deal best compared to one made well before Friday. The $14 million per year he’ll make is akin to Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million extension with the Suns signed in September.