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Sticky Ricky

Well, there it is.  Closure...for now.  With the news that Ricky Rubio will spend, at least, the next 2 years in Spain comes a moment to sit back and take stock of what we know at the moment: a clear twist in the long road from La Penya to the NBA. 

The Alpha and Omega in any discussion about Rubio and the Wolves is to answer the following question: What else was David Kahn supposed to have done? Had he passed on Rubio with not one but two lottery picks, he would have been ripped for not selecting the BPA.  Had he selected Rubio and traded him to the Knicks, he would have been ripped for exhibiting nepotism with his former boss (to say nothing of the lopsided nature of any Knicks-based deal that could be offered).  Had he picked Rubio and traded him for the rumored Houston package, he would have been ripped for not getting maximum value out of a hot commodity.  Had he made an under-the-table deal with Joventut, he would have been ripped for giving the Wolves and their fans Joe Smith 2.0.  On this particular issue, Kahn is to his critics as Barack Obama is to Glenn Beck: He's going to lose no matter what he does so why worry about the criticism? (Also, the majority of reporting on the Rubio matter seems to be more concerned with the political horse race than whether or not what Kahn is effectively using his assets...but that's a topic for another post.)

The number one thing that can be taken away from any criticism of Kahn and his handling of the Rubio situation is that he is getting ripped for a) doing exactly what he said he would do from day 1, and b) traveling the most reasonable route he, and his team, could possibly traverse along La Route Rubio.  Again: What else would critics have Kahn do?

From the get-go Kahn has preached patience, a willingness to work with the Rubio family, and a need for transparency at every step of the way with his smallish fan base.  On each of these points he has delivered the goods.  He has not wavered from his stated goals and there is not a single move that can be pointed to which can be placed in the context of other possible moves and not be viewed as the best available option at that particular point in time. 

All of this says nothing about the basic fact that this dilemma always has been, and will continue to be, a math problem for the Rubio family.  What level of financial security are/were they willing to live with and can this happy balance be achieved when weighing the buyout against a future contract?  Lost in all the hubbub about Rubio's choice to stay in Europe is the great liklihood that an 18 year old professional baller made a sound financial decision.  More on that in a bit. 

The second point that needs to be taken away from the turn in the road is the growing notion that Camp Rubio deserves the lion's share of the blame for Blonde Ricky's current situation.  While the 18 year old may have made a sound financial decision in the context of weighing playing for the Wolves vs. Barcelona, he has, on the whole, put himself into a situation that was made worse by his camp's inability to properly gauge pre-draft hype and, apparently, an inability to use a calculator, the NBA rookie salary scale, and an IRS income tax spread sheet.  My best guess is that they figured they could live with, at the very least, the 4th pick's money and once Tyreke Evans started going all LeBron in the PG Battle Royales, they were unable to create enough steam to get him back in the top-4 mix.  Speaking of salary scales...

At first glance, the NBA's rookie salary scale for the 5th pick seems somewhat reasonable: roughly $15.2 million over 4 years.  However, this does not take into account three key items that turn $15 large into a number that doesn't hold up well against the reported buyout number of $5.28 million.  First, $8.42 million of the $15.2 million rookie scale is tied up in two years of player options.  A good friend of mine works as an actuary for Mutual of Omaha and he finds it far-fetched that any loan guarantee would be written while taking into account a non-guaranteed payment option.  In other words, Rubio is really only guaranteed about $6.78 million in pre-tax earnings over the course of two seasons.  Secondly, at no point in any of the Rubio reporting have we ever learned anything about the payment structure of the buyout.  Would it be a lump sum?  Would it be over 2 years?   Would it be over the length of the full 4-year rookie scale?  Again, my actuary friend finds it implausible that this debt would be paid on anything other than a lump sum or a two year scale.  Even if Rubio were able to secure an insurance policy that extends beyond his guaranteed years, he would face a high premium that may make it an unattractive option vis-a-vis the Barcelona contract.  Third, Rubio would face a 35% federal income tax combined with state taxes in Minnesota and every state he plays in.  To the best of my knowledge, his overall tax burden would be 42.85%.  In other words, his pre-duty/pre-agent fee take home pay for the first two years of his rookie contract is roughly $3.87 mil.  That's $1.4 million in the hole if you add in the reported buyout.  If he were able to secure a four year repayment plan, his post-tax take home pay would be roughly $8.69 million; $3.41 mil over the buyout over 4 years and $825k/year pre-agent/duty pay.  The bottom line here is that it's pretty hard to look at the non-endorsement money on the table in the NBA and have it compare favorably to what Rubio will earn in Europe over the next two years.  At the end of the day, the Wolves could only contribute $500k while Barcelona ponied up over $5 million.  Rubio likely chose the far safer, and more economically sound, option. 

Third, Wolves fans around the world can be thankful that Bill Simmons was not granted his GM wishes with their favorite team.  Here is one of his tweets from earlier in the day:

Dear 'Sota: Your GM shoulda traded Rubio's rights from Day 1. Now he is playing the blame game. You cannot accept this.

Really?  Here is what Simmons wrote about Rubio on draft day:

4. It took 21 minutes before someone (Fran Fraschilla) gushed about Rubio's once-in-a-generation passing, two-steps-ahead-of-everyone timing and incredible career (playing professionally since age 14). Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is going to regret not being more excited about Ricky Rubio on June 25, 2009. More on this in a second.


5:03: Phew. Sota took him. The best part: Stern going into "I'm gonna be extra gregarious right now because they'll be replaying this in Europe!" mode as he announced the pick. Gotta say, I can't kill Kahn for turning Randy Foye and Mike Miller into Rubio. Nice work. An orgasmic Fraschilla says Rubio is "the best passer in the last decade of drafts" and he's "got a Gretzky-like feel, he sees the game two and three plays ahead." Totally agree.

Simmons follows up his tweet about Kahn needing to trade a once-in-a-generation passer with this little ditty:

Rubio needed big market endorsement $$$ to buy out other deal. LA-NY-Chi-Hou-etc. Minny couldn't work. Kahn messed up. Shoulda flipped him.

Of course.  As if the bottom line of a player needing to be taken in the top 4 to make the ledger sheet work would have magically disappeared with theoretical endorsement dollars in a weak economy had he just been traded away to a bigger market...for whom exactly?  Just imagine for a moment had the Rubio math problem played itself out in the New York media.  A better question might be the following: Is there a better team for Rubio than the Wolves to work out this simple matter of the bottom line? 

I'm looking forward to reading Simmons' basketball book, but here's hoping it's more coherent than what he's offered up so far in relation to Kahn and Rubio. 

Wrapping this little ditty up, I will once again point to the simple idea that Kahn has done what he has had to do in order to most effectively wield Rubio, the asset.  For his critics, what else would you have him do in order to maximize what he has on the table?  Please, do not give me any New York trade scenarios.

Finally, in retrospect, the selection of Jonny Flynn seems to be the correct pick and if there were to be some hand wringing about the whole ordeal it is that Sacramento didn't jump on Rubio leaving the Wolves with Flynn and Tyreke Evans. 

What say you?