By JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Ricky Rubio is making his long-awaited move to the NBA, and will join the Minnesota Timberwolves next season.
The highly touted 20-year-old Spanish guard ended two years of speculation Friday, saying "I have finally decided to start the journey" to the NBA.
"It is my dream and I want to fulfill it," he said. "After thinking about it a lot, the time has arrived."
The Timberwolves chose Rubio with the No. 5 pick in the 2009 NBA draft, but his $6 million buyout clause at Barcelona - of which an NBA team could pay only $500,000 under league rules - made him stay in Spain until it came down to a more manageable $1.4 million.
Since his debut in the Spanish league with Joventut when he was 14, Rubio has won numerous titles in Europe and also helped Spain reach the 2008 Olympic final, a loss to the United States.
"I think all that I have won here gives me strength to go," Rubio said.
But Rubio is coming off perhaps the most disappointing season of his career. His dropped to 6.5 points per game and even lost his starting spot on the Barcelona team.
Speaking at a packed news conference at Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium - where Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola usually address the media - Rubio acknowledged that he didn't have his best season.
"Individually, I could have done things better, but it is a team sport and we had success," Rubio said, adding that he was not going to the NBA because of a need to jump start his game.
"I am going because I feel prepared," Rubio said. "I want to play against the best players in the world."
Barcelona secured the Spanish league title last week, and Rubio knows he might have to wait a while for another trophy. Minnesota was an NBA-worst 17-65 last season and is in dire need for a capable point guard.
"It will mean a change of mentality" Rubio said. "Perhaps we won't be fighting for the title, but we will have other goals. I am willing to do whatever the team needs to win as many games as possible."
The Timberwolves also have the second pick in next week's draft and they should be able to add another skilled player to help make Rubio's transition easier.
Many NBA observers thought this day would never come, speculating that Rubio would try to force his way out of small-market Minnesota to play for a higher profile franchise in a bigger city. But Timberwolves president David Kahn stayed patient, never pressuring the precocious teenager and delicately negotiating until Rubio made the decision that he was ready to come to the United States.
Many also think that Rubio is better suited to the NBA than the European game, which is played on smaller courts and doesn't give guards as much room to operate on the perimeter.
"I like the NBA game as a spectator," Rubio said. "It is very attractive and more open."
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed from Minneapolis.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)