Timberwolves' Rubio has torn ACL in left knee
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn and coach Rick Adelman were clear in their message – both to the media, and to the players -- expectations aren't changing.
No, Ricky Rubio won't suit up for the Wolves again this season, and he's likely to miss the 2012 London Olympics with a torn ACL in his left knee suffered Friday night in Minnesota's 105-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. But in the 25 games the Wolves will play without him, they are to keep clawing toward their first playoff berth since the 2003-04 season.
Certainly Minnesota would do nothing less, but the players echoed the company line Saturday afternoon before facing the New Orleans Hornets with more uncertainty than confidence. Yes, of course they will fight to make the playoffs. But will they succeed without their 21-year-old floor general?
"It's still early to talk about that," starting center Nikola Pekovic said. "We'll see how we're going to play. Nobody expected this. Other guys need to step up for him and step up for the team."
The Wolves went home after Friday's loss not knowing the status of their starting point guard. His knee buckled an instant before he collided with Kobe Bryant when 16.4 seconds remaining in the contest, and after lying on his back for several moments he had to be helped to the Minnesota bench by teammates.
A Saturday morning MRI revealed the tear, leading to a somber shoot-around as the Wolves digested the news.
"It's a big emotional shock," forward Kevin Love said. "He makes winning plays, he's a winner. We love having him around, on and off the court. We hope for a speedy recovery so he can help this team next year."
Added forward Anthony Tolliver: "It's a big blow to our team. He's a huge part of what we do. He definitely gets a lot of people involved and is just a great leader out there."
Rubio is averaging 10.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game this season. He's leading all rookies in minutes, assists and steals and is fifth among first-year players in scoring. Rubio is third in steals and fifth in assists among all NBA players.
The Western Conference Rookie of the Month for January was making a strong push along with Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Kyrie Irving for Rookie of the Year honors.
Instead, he'll wait a week or two for swelling in his knee to subside before having surgery. The recovery time varies, but Kahn expects Rubio to be back to full strength by the start of next season.
"I think that Ricky has demonstrated throughout his entire season his competitiveness knows no bounds, his work ethic knows no bounds," Kahn said. "If ever there was a player that was ticketed to have not just a full recovery but to come back better than ever, strong, it's Ricky Rubio."
Former Minnesota center Al Jefferson suffered a season-ending ACL tear on Feb. 8, 2009, but returned to play all but six games the following season and was healthy in time for the opener. Former Wolves forward Corey Brewer suffered a similar injury Nov. 29, 2008, and returned to play all 82 games the following season.
Thus, there's reason for optimism for Rubio's long-term basketball future. In the short term, Minnesota must learn to live without him.
"There's definitely going to be change, but we still want to push the ball if we can," Adelman said. "It made it a lot easier because he had the ball in his hands a lot and Luke (Ridnour) was able to play off the ball, which he's good at. So like I said, it's going to change things. Like this year has been all year long, we're going to have to tinker with it and try to figure things out as we go."
Ridnour shifted to the point guard spot, and Martell Webster started Saturday night at shooting guard for the second time this season. Adelman said he likely wouldn't start Ridnour and reserve point guard J.J. Barea together when Barea returns from a sprained left ankle – which could be as soon as Monday against the Phoenix Suns. Instead, Barea will serve as Ridnour's backup, although the two could still play together for stretches. Until Barea returns, rookie Malcolm Lee is the only other point guard. Lee, who was called up from the D-League on Friday after a rehab stint, made his NBA debut in the second quarter Saturday night.
Still, Barea can't replace everything Rubio brings not only to Minnesota but to the NBA. Stars like Pau Gasol, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade tweeted their condolences for the rookie sensation who has brought a level of excitement and interest back to Target Center not seen since Kevin Garnett donned a Wolves uniform.
"We have to persevere through it and need to come together," Love said. "It's a chance for other guys to step up. That's what's going to need to happen going forward. We can't lose the essence of where this team is headed right now."
That's much easier said than done. While Love is Minnesota's unquestioned star, the essence he referenced begins with Rubio.