The Step Back

The hazy nostalgia of Ricky Rubio and the Minnesota Timberwolves


The Timberwolves have matched up against the Utah Jazz twice already in the 2017-18 season. Following the first game, my Twitter timeline was full of longing and wistful sentiments pleading for the return of Ricky Rubio to the Twin Cities. I can’t say this caught me by surprise. Ricky was loved in Minneapolis. From the day he was drafted in 2009 to his arrival in 2011, Rubio was billed as the team’s salvation. And that’s a big role to fill. One he was never quite able to. And yet, he found a warm, loving place in the hearts and minds of Wolves fans, many of whom still ache to see him in the starting five. Many who seem to reminisce speciously.

Nostalgia is a funny feeling. It has this way of romanticizing the past. Of erasing the bad and disarray, and affording us more pleasant memories of experiences that maybe were not. This isn’t to say that Ricky Rubio is a bad basketball player. He most definitely can ball – his floor vision, his passing, his anticipation on defense – Ricky Rubio is a good point guard. He’s charismatic with unique abilities and a knack for team play, all things I’m a fan of. And he was a good point guard for six years with the Wolves. He showed improvement in each consecutive season. But again, I think, some times, some people, remember Rubio’s time in Minnesota a little more favorably than how it played out. And most of it was to no fault of his own.

Rubio lived through some of the team’s darkest hours: 1) David Kahn’s poor man approach to a Popovich international strategy (Shved, Pek, Kirilenko), 2) David Kahn in general, 3) a very sassy, immature and arguably depressed Kevin Love, 4) Rick Adelman as a head coach, who seemed distracted and tired through most of his tenure with the team and who Rubio was never quite able to click with, and 5) the death of Flip Saunders. All this and a torn ACL in his first season. Really, the cards were stacked against him. The odds were never in his favor.

When the Wolves shipped Rubio off to the Jazz this summer I was happy. Happy for him. Happy for the Wolves. Together they were stagnant, but apart, they’d each have the opportunity to blossom. And I think, so far, they both have. Or are on track to.

Rubio started shooting better at the end of last season and has continued to do so in Salt Lake City. The Wolves are 8-5, which includes a five-game win streak — the first since 2009. And yes, there’s the argument that Rubio having playmakers and veterans (Butler, Gibson and Crawford) to pass to this season would’ve allowed him to excel. That’s probably true, but I don’t want to bet on a ‘probably’ that historically hasn’t given me a reason to. True, I think it would have been fun to see Rubio throw no-look lobs to Jimmy Buckets. And yes, Wiggins and KAT have grown into smarter, more well-rounded teammates (in part due to Rubio’s leadership). But Jeff Teague has assumed the point position with authority and finesse in a way Rubio was never able to. What it boils down to is not talent, but chemistry. Teague is a better fit.

So, as a Wolves fan, certainly there were moments when I thought Ricky Rubio was the one. And maybe he was. Maybe he’s the one who got away. At the very least he’s the “what if?” The team never had the other pieces to make it to the postseason while Rubio was on the team.

He’s a good point guard. But he wasn’t a good fit for the Wolves.

I’ll attribute that to the mystery of how people create a kind of rhythm, something the Wolves and Rubio were never quite able to do. I think it has something to do with timing. And after this second match-up, my timeline was less cluttered with devout Wolves Rubioists. Again, likely something to do with timing. Enough time passed, enough new, good feelings and experiences with this new look Wolves squad to move on. Enough distance to separate feelings from facts. I’ll always remember Ricky in a positive light, despite what transpired on the floor. It’s his charisma. Something that’s always allowed me to feel good about him.

Broken record here, Rubio is a good point guard, just not for the Wolves. And moving on looks good on both Ricky and the Wolves. 



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