Ricky Rubio will miss the rest of the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2011-12 season after tearing his ACL in a collision with Kobe Bryant on Friday night. The recovery period for Rubio appears to be 6-9 months, putting him back on the court in September at the earliest, or into the 2012-13 season at worst. He'll miss Spain's Olympic quest in August, too, which seriously deflates the entertainment value of a matchup against Team USA.
But lest the Rubio reaction become one giant wake, let us remember what we learned about Ricky and the Wolves this season: this kid and this team have the potential to be something special.
No one knew what to expect out of Rubio when he (finally) arrived in the NBA this season. There were the glimpses of stardom in the 2008 Olympics, when as a 17-year-old he drew praise from Team USA's marquee players. But then there was a rather disastrous couple of years at Barcelona, where his team thrived but his individual numbers were abysmal. Was his game, developed entirely in Spain, a poor fit in high-level Spanish basketball? Was he more like a Globetrotter than a legit NBA point guard? Would he be another of David Kahn's long list of mistakes, or would he make teams that passed him up regret their decisions?
We got an answer from pretty much Ricky's first game this season: the kid is legit. His passing vision might already be top-3 in the NBA, and he's working with some major holes in Minnesota's rotation. His shooting is bad, but not so catastrophic that it damages his usefulness. His defense was as good as some advanced stats guys had projected -- he's not exactly Rajon Rondo, but he's gifted on that end, currently No. 5 in the league in steal rate. The panache that showed up in highlight reels -- my favorite remains the one set to "Free Bird" -- and in the Olympics translated to the NBA. It wasn't all a mirage. It wasn't all just mistaken hope and hype. The best we saw in Rubio was real, and we saw it this season.
And, as Kahn always said, Rubio really made the Wolves make sense. Just when you thought Kevin Love couldn't have bigger numbers, couldn't be more productive, Ricky arrived and the power forward's numbers rose. Critics had pegged Rubio's ceiling at Luke Ridnour ... and Ricky took Luke's starting job within three weeks. Nikola Pekovic, a rookie in 2010-11, looks good enough in the past two months that center is no longer close to Minnesota's biggest hole. Ricky couldn't conjure an NBA player out of Wes Johnson, and he can't save Michael Beasley's career. But the Wolves, above .500 after the All-Star break for the first time since Ervin Johnson stalked the hallowed halls of Target Center, really have begun to make sense. Kahn's vision came into focus.
This season-ending injury to Rubio stings, and it could very well end Minnesota's 2012 playoffs bid by the end of next week. The West is unforgiving, and no team will feel sorry for the Wolves. But no injury short of one that ends the career of Ricky, Love or Rick Adelman can destroy that which has been built this season. A torn ACL is rough, but it's not the end. It just puts things on hold until Ricky gets back. Perhaps by then Minnesota will have a tenable shooting guard for Rubio to set up, and Beasley will have disappeared to make way for a full-time Derrick Williams.
There's no choice left but to wait -- again -- for Ricky. But unlike the last time Minnesota had its dawn delayed, they know the sun will rise again this time. It's just 6-9 months away.