SALT LAKE CITY — Ricky Rubio is the new starting point guard for the Utah Jazz and here's why: timing.
Long rumored to be part of trade talks during his six years with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rubio was sent to the Jazz on June 30 for a 2018 first-round pick as Utah made last-ditch efforts to convince All-Star forward Gordon Hayward to stay in the Beehive State. With Hayward having decided on July 4 to go to the Boston Celtics, Rubio is now a core piece of what is, in some sense, a new era of Jazz basketball.
Thanks to a number of commitments in July, across various parts of the world, Rubio didn’t formally meet with local media until a conference call from his native Spain on Wednesday afternoon, where he discussed both the past and the future.
“To get traded, it’s not fun, but I was really excited to go to an organization that really believed in me,” he said. “It’s a great basketball organization with a good tradition. It was a little weird. I was six years in Minnesota. My name was in the papers with rumors and all that stuff for the last couple years, but never traded. This summer, I guess it was time. I have no regrets. I had a great time in Minnesota, but I think it was time for the both of us to move on. I think it was that time of our relationship that it didn’t work out the way we wanted, and we move on.”
Rubio enters an organization that has already put rather high expectations on him, as Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey said in early July that the Jazz’s new floor general compares favorably to Jason Kidd.
For his part, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Rubio shied away from that comparison Wednesday but appreciates Lindsey’s belief in him.
“Having the GM talk that good about me, it’s great,” he said. “The confidence that they showed in me from the beginning, it’s awesome, and now I have to answer that confidence with good games. I have confidence in me, and I’ve worked hard this summer. I think I can bring a lot to that team.”
While Kidd and Rubio certainly both built reputations upon their ability to distribute the basketball, they also struggled as shooters early in their careers. Kidd wound up improving drastically over the course of his 19 years in the NBA and Rubio had a sudden uptick in his percentages over the second half of last season.
He credited being in a good place both mentally and physically as the reason for that jump, and he has confidence he can continue it in Utah, especially as a mid-range shooter.
“I’ve been working a lot mentally to try to more regularly play at that high level and with that confidence,” he said. “It’s a little bit of everything. I hope I can bring it to next season and keep improving that way.”
Although many might first think of the 26-year-old Rubio as a playmaker, he has also demonstrated acumen on the defensive end, where he has averaged more than two steals per game over the course of his career.
With the Jazz, he’ll be the first line of what could be an even better defensive team from a squad that gave up the fewest points per game in the league last season
“I know what I can bring to the table,” Rubio said. “Of course my defense is a strength of mine. I’ve been working on my body this summer to be stronger and to be ready for this league that has so many good point guards and so many athletic point guards that every night you face top point guards and you have to be ready for that. I feel confident in my defense and I think I can really help the team to improve even more.”
Having been summoned from Spain just a few days after the trade to be part of Utah’s pitch to keep Hayward, Rubio acknowledged the Jazz will miss the All-Star, but Rubio says he's looking forward to what’s next both for him personally and for his new team.
“We’re going to move forward,” he said. “We’re going to try to be a better team than we were last year if that’s possible. Being in the Western Conference semifinals is not easy, but we’re going to move forward and just think about the players that we have.”