Knicks' interest heightens Rubio hype
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Knicks are curious whether Ricky Rubio will wind up in Minnesota or Spain next season, curious enough that team president Donnie Walsh was planning to contact Minnesota by the end of the day Friday to begin seeking answers.
Like everyone else around the NBA, the Knicks were taken by surprise Thursday night when the Timberwolves used the fifth and sixth picks of the NBA draft to select a pair of point guards, Rubio and Syracuse's Jonny Flynn.
The suspense deepened after Rubio's father told a Spanish media outlet that Rubio would prefer to return to Spain for at least one season, maybe two, and the Timberwolves found themselves Friday in the uncomfortable position of planning their introductory post-draft news conference without the player they sacrificed Mike Miller and Randy Foye to select.
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"There is such a thing as drafting assets. I don't know if that is what he's doing," Walsh said of new Timberwolves general manager David Kahn, who worked under Walsh for several years with the Indiana Pacers as Walsh's assistant GM.
Looking back on the events of the past few days, Walsh said Kahn had indicated to him -- an indication that Walsh initially dismissed -- that he might take two guards with the two picks. So Walsh said it was the biggest surprise of the night, in his opinion, when Minnesota took Flynn with the sixth pick -- giving the Knicks the assurance that they would get one of the two players remaining on the board that they coveted -- Jordan Hill or Stephen Curry.
"It was just a general conversation," Walsh said. "We didn't talk about players, but he said, 'I would take two little guys.' And I thought it was just a comment meaning, 'I'm not going to do this in a prototypical type of way, because I need players.' "
The best Hill moment from Friday was when he mentioned how he remembered when the Knicks had Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley and were good. Asked how old he was when he formed those memories, Hill answered "5 or 6."
The best Douglas moment was when he showed off his No. 23 jersey and it was pointed out to him that there might be a free agent out there 12 months from now who would probably want that number for himself.
Walsh insisted that his draft selections would have no bearing on the uncertain futures of restricted free agents David Lee and Nate Robinson, though it was hard to ignore the fact that Hill and Douglas could fill the roles Lee and Robinson occupied the past three seasons (and, in a perfect world, newly acquired Darko Milicic could spend a season grabbing some of the rebounds Lee specialized in corralling).
The Knicks value Lee more than they do Robinson, but if Lee and/or Robinson are going to take up a large portion of the cap space the Knicks want to have available next summer to make a run at LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh, both could be expendable.
"I'm always looking at 2010, because I do want to be in the free-agent market in a big way, so I would say it's going to be my job to make sure that happens -- that we don't disrupt that in a major way," Walsh said.
Toward that end, Walsh will continue during the summer to try to find takers for Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries, two of the four players (Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are the others, to be joined shortly by Hill and Douglas) under contract through the 2010-11 season.
In hindsight, the Knicks had some huge regrets Friday. Two weeks ago, they were convinced Rubio would be off the board at No. 5, leading them to turn down a deal that would have sent Larry Hughes and Chandler to Washington for Etan Thomas, Mike James, Oleksiy Pecherov and the No. 5 pick (New York would not have surrendered the eighth pick in that trade), and Washington ended up getting Miller and Foye for the pick.
Now, depending on how things shake out between Rubio and the Timberwolves, the NBA rights to the 18-year-old could come onto the market this summer, next season or even in the summer of 2010 or 2011 if he opts to return to DKV Joventut rather than relocate to Minneapolis -- Rubio's astronomical $6 million buyout drops to zero in the summer of 2011.
One of the biggest certainties of the day Friday was that Kahn would be receiving a number of exploratory phone calls inquiring about his plans should Rubio balk at reporting.
And if that is the case, the rights to Rubio could be an asset that increases in value in the weeks and months ahead.
"I haven't spoken to Minnesota, I will," Walsh said. "I don't know what's going on there. He took a lot of point guards, and I want to ask him, 'Why did you do that?' "
Kahn traded two of the four point guards he drafted, sending Ty Lawson to Denver for a future first-round pick and dealing Nick Calathes to Dallas. Kahn also insisted in an ESPN interview Thursday night that he was committed to keeping both Rubio and Flynn and playing them together, but a huge factor in that equation is how easy or difficult it is going to be for the Wolves to play ball with Rubio and his agent, Dan Fegan, who has a history of trying to steer his international clients away from small-market teams.
A rival agent of Fegan's predicted that Minnesota owner Glen Taylor would take a stubborn stance if Rubio tried to force the Wolves' hand.
"He's very thoughtful," Walsh said of Kahn, "and I think you'd be wrong to judge him based on this because he probably has Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, Step 4 [already planned]. And he's going into a situation that needs some change, and he's looking at trying to change it, and he'll do it in various ways -- and the draft is the first step in this process."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.