Why we might not see Rubio until 2012
Don't expect to see Ricky Rubio playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves -- or any other NBA team -- in the summer of 2011, two years from now.
The opinion here is that it'll be three years before Rubio leaves FC Barcelona, and there are millions upon millions of rea$on$ why this theory holds water.
Here's the main thing: money.
It's always about the money, and the monetary benefits of Rubio's playing three more years in Spain instead of two are astronomical.
If Rubio exercises his 1 million euro buyout in the summer of 2011 after two seasons with FC Barcelona, he then would be able to sign with the Timberwolves (or any other NBA team if Minnesota were to trade his rights) under terms of the 2011-12 rookie-salary scale. Assuming collective bargaining agreement rules don't change, that would guarantee him $7.22 million in his first two NBA seasons, with his team holding options for a $4 million salary in his third season and $5.07 million in '14-15. He would make a total of $16.29 million in his first four seasons, and he would not be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2016, when he would be 25.
If Rubio plays three seasons for FC Barcelona, by the summer of 2012 he no longer would be bound by the terms of the NBA rookie scale, which apply to first-round picks only for the first three years after which they are drafted.
Rubio then could exercise his buyout (which remains the same in 2012 as it is in 2011: 1 million euros), come to America at age 21 and not be bound by the rookie scale. (Yes, there is a specific rule covering these situations. We've checked the details with the highest authorities and discovered a few caveats: Rubio's contract would have to be for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five, and the money that would be made available to him could be only from a team with salary-cap space, the mid-level exception, or a disabled player exception.)
So let's say the Wolves are $8 million under the cap in the summer of 2012, they still hold Rubio's rights and Rubio has blossomed into an All-Star-caliber player.
Minnesota then could offer Rubio a five-year deal starting at $8 million with 8 percent annual raises (assuming CBA rules don't change), which would total out at $46.4 million and make him an unrestricted free agent at age 26. (Moreover, if Rubio had an opt out, he could become unrestricted at 25.)
In short, if Rubio comes in 2011, the rules say he can earn a maximum of $16.3 million in his first four seasons. If he comes in 2012, he won't be boxed into that rookie-scale deal.
Let's take it even further: If Rubio's stock rises to the point where he is considered talented enough to be a "max" player (a player eligible to receive a maximum salary, which in Rubio's case would be 25 percent of the salary cap if the rule stays the same under the new CBA), and his agent can get Rubio's rights traded to a team with "max" space, he could make $16.3 million in his rookie season alone.
Yes, there are a lot of ifs there, and another big if is whether those same rules would be grandfathered into the new collective bargaining agreement that will replace the one likely to expire in June 2011.
Still, under the current rules, Rubio would be loco ("crazy" en Español) to leave Spain in 2011 rather than 2012.
On Wednesday, I asked Timberwolves president David Kahn what assurances he had that Rubio would be coming to Minnesota in 2011, which is what everyone seems to be assuming.
"I have nothing but his word that he wants to come, but he doesn't have to."
Kahn also had Rubio's word on Saturday night when he, agent Dan Fegan and DKV Joventut president Jordi Villacampa sat down and had dinner together. They even went so far as to put the terms of their agreement in writing -- a "term sheet" in industry parlance. But by Monday, Rubio had changed his mind and played his ultimate trump card. (Unlike in the NBA, players under FIBA contracts have the right to approve their transfer to another club, and Rubio said he wanted to be dealt to FC Barcelona, not Minnesota.)
So although we do not doubt Rubio's word that he ultimately aspires to play in the NBA, we are not at all sold on the idea that he's coming in two years.
If money matters, it'll be three. And money always matters.
So see ya in 2012, Ricky, not 2011.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.