RIO DE JANEIRO — When Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden were hired to take over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the expectation within in the organization and around the NBA was that they were coming in to make significant changes to a franchise with the longest-running playoff drought in the league.
Ricky Rubio heard his name floated in the constant trade rumor mill, never more than after the Wolves selected Providence's Kris Dunn, another point guard, with the fifth overall pick in the June draft.
Rubio remained quiet throughout the summer, putting all of his focus into grieving the loss of his mother and then joining his national team to prepare for the Olympics. Now that the Rio Games have concluded and Rubio has earned a bronze medal with Spain, he said he is looking forward to returning to Minnesota to work with Dunn and reiterated his desire to remain with the Timberwolves and help turn them into a winner.
"Really it's a challenge. When a young guy like him who has a lot of potential comes, I think we can really play together," Rubio told The Associated Press. "But if we don't (share the floor often), I can really help him."
Rubio said he was pleased by Thibodeau's hiring and believes the new coaching staff will make a big difference on a young, impressionable roster.
"I think we've got all the pieces together to make something happen," he said. "I'm really excited about the new coach and the new staff. They have a lot of years in their backpack and really can teach us how to reach the next level. I think we have the tools. We just have to put all them together."
Thibodeau has said he can see Dunn and Rubio playing together in certain lineups, and indications within the organization are that there are no current efforts to trade the veteran starter. One of the team's biggest weaknesses last season was the lack of a solid backup to Rubio at point guard, a setup that caused the Wolves to try to move Zach LaVine from his more natural shooting guard spot.
With Dunn in the mix, the Wolves have more depth now. And Rubio's presence assures the team doesn't have to force a rookie into a starting spot at one of the game's most important positions.
The 25-year-old Rubio is entering his sixth season and has yet to see the playoffs. He said that concerns him far more than his team investing a high lottery pick on a player at his position. Rubio believes he can serve as a mentor to Dunn and hopes the two can push each other to new heights.
"It's something that I've said since Day One." Rubio said. "I don't want to be in the newspaper. I just want to win. That's my goal. If I have to sacrifice something, I will to make this team a winning team."
That is the mentality he took on over the summer with Spain, a team filled with proud veterans who take lesser roles when they get together in the summer to compete in the Olympics.
"All we do (with Spain) when we click is put all the egos apart and really click as a team," Rubio said. "The guy who really knows how to (play) defense, put him in on defense. The guy who is exceptional on offense, give him credit and give him the ball. Put everything apart and the team first."
Rubio has had several conversations with Thibodeau since he was hired. But they haven't had the time to really dig into the situation. Thibodeau was an assistant on Team USA in Rio, so now that the Olympics are over, the two expect to have more in-depth conversations.
"In my five years I've been there, definitely it's the best group," Rubio said. "Players, coaches, you put it all together and it's the best we've ever had. The excitement is real. We have really young talent that can really take us to the next level with veterans that can help. And the coach I think is going to be the key and the difference."