By Jon Krawczynski
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MINNEAPOLIS _ The clock was ticking down toward the deadline for reaching agreement on an extension of his rookie contract, and just like he does on the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio took charge.
“I was talking with my agents and I told them I really wanted to stay here,” Rubio told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Friday night. “I told them to make something work. At the end of the day it did happen and I’m happy about it.”
About two hours before the midnight Eastern deadline, Rubio signed a four-year contract extension worth $55 million that includes another $1 million in incentives, bringing an end to a long and sometimes tense negotiation between the flashy Spanish point guard and the team that drafted him in 2009.
Rubio averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 steals but shot just 37 per cent in his first three seasons. The shooting numbers led some to say the Timberwolves would have been better off waiting to see how Rubio performs this season before extending him an offer given that they would have had the ability to match any offer that he received on the open market next summer.
But owner Glen Taylor has long been big on loyalty, and he reached out directly to Rubio earlier this week to make one last push.
“I want to call Minnesota home for a long time,” Rubio said. “That’s why I signed the contract. My mom’s going to get mad at me, but I don’t leave home when I’m here. This is my second home. I really feel very welcome here.”
As salaries stand right now, Rubio’s $13.75 million average annual salary starting next season will be more than high profile point guards like Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson. Rubio’s representatives targeted Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million deal to eclipse, and ended up coming very close despite not having the leverage that Bledsoe had as a restricted free agent.
In Rubio, Taylor and Flip Saunders, the team’s president of basketball operations, head coach and minority owner, see a dynamic 24-year-old point guard who is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
Rubio made an immediate impact as a rookie on a long-suffering team, helping them climb to the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture in early March before he tore two ligaments in his left knee in a game against the Lakers.
He played all 82 games last season and said he feels as healthy this year has he has been since the injury. Rather than wade through the potentially tricky waters of restricted free agency next summer, the Wolves engaged agents Dan Fegan and Jarinn Akana of Relativity Sports to get a deal done.
“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,” Saunders said in a statement. “We look forward to many great years ahead of Ricky in a Timberwolves uniform.”
“He came to us with such high expectations and he immediately proved why we were so high on him,” Taylor said. “Unfortunately he got hurt at the end of his rookie season, 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.”
One of the league’s best passers, Rubio got quite an assist from the NBA’s new television deal. The league signed new agreements with ESPN and Turner totalling $24 billion earlier this month. It remains unclear just how soon the massive extensions will flood the league with cash and send the salary cap soaring, but the inevitability helped the Timberwolves feel more comfortable writing a bigger check to lock Rubio in.
With Kemba Walker signing a four-year, $48 million deal with Charlotte and Goran Dragic and Rajon Rondo figuring to cash in next summer, Rubio’s deal may not look quite so large when the salary cap starts to rise.
“You’re getting paid more, you have to earn it,” Rubio said. “You have to show why you’re getting paid this money. Of course there’s going to be extra pressure. I wanted to be more of a leader and take this team to another level.”
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