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Timberwolves draftee Rubio to leave Spanish club

RICKY Rubio plans to part ways with Spanish club DKV Joventut even if the Minnesota Timberwolves cannot reach a deal to bring their first-round draft pick to the NBA.

Timberwolves president David Kahn was in Spain this week to try and help the fifth overall pick negotiate a buyout of his contract with Joventut. Rubio is at odds with his boyhood club over a buyout clause that could cost the 18-year-old point guard as much as US$6.6 million. The NBA's collective bargaining rules limit the Timberwolves' contribution to US$500,000.

Regardless of whether Rubio makes the trip across the Atlantic next season, he won't be playing at Joventut.

"I want to continue with the club but, after everything that's happened, I don't think they're too comfortable having me in their squad," Rubio said yesterday. "I want to play in a winning team, on a team that can achieve many things."

Rubio signed with Joventut at 14 years old, becoming the youngest player ever to play in a Spanish ACB League game. He rose to prominence over the next few years, playing for Spain's silver medal-winning team in the Beijing Olympics at 17 and becoming a popular player thanks to his flashy passes and floppy hair.

Minnesota drafted him fifth overall in June and holds his NBA rights for as long as Rubio is playing basketball professionally. But it is not exactly clear what ramifications, if any, Rubio's parting with Joventut has on the Timberwolves' chances of bringing the popular point guard to the United States this season.

Rubio has two years remaining on his deal with Joventut. The enormity of the buyout has a player who made less than US$100,000 last season thinking twice about coming to the NBA right away.

That's what prompted Kahn to fly to Spain on Monday. He met with Joventut officials to see if he could help resolve the issue, but declined to comment - both on the news that Rubio will leave Joventut and the trip in general - when reached by The Associated Press yesterday.

Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona are both interested in signing Rubio if he cannot make it to the NBA this season. Unlike the Timberwolves, they are not subject to the collective bargaining rules of the NBA and could pay the entire buyout fee to get him.

Kahn has said in the past that the rebuilding Timberwolves are willing to wait a year, or even two, for Rubio to come to Minnesota. But the sooner Rubio can get there, the better for a franchise that has struggled to fill seats at Target Center since trading Kevin Garnett to Boston two years ago.

The Timberwolves chose point guard Jonny Flynn with the sixth overall pick right behind Rubio last month, so the team has a backup plan if the Spanish sensation decides to play another year in Europe and reduce the cost of his buyout.


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