CLEVELAND — For those wondering why the Cavaliers would bring Ricky Rubio back when he’s still rehabbing a torn left ACL, Kevin Love put the reunion into perspective on Monday.
“I really believe he was the one who encompassed everything that we were last year,” said five-time All-Star forward Love.
“Building the culture here, he’s been such a big part of that. Even when he wasn’t there, his presence was felt.
It was a devastating blow when backup point guard Rubio fell on Dec. 28 in New Orleans. Entering that night, the Cavs were 20-13 and had beaten the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors in the previous two weeks. The Cavs finished 44-38, the second-biggest improvement in franchise history, but were eliminated in the qualifying tournament.
Rubio’s impact went far beyond his 13.1 points and 6.6 assists per game.
Rubio was a valuable mentor to Darius Garland, who was named to his first All-Star Game. Rubio clicked in the second unit with former Minnesota Timberwolves teammate Love, who spent his first three NBA seasons with Rubio. Coach JB Bickerstaff relied on Rubio to establish the Cavs culture.
“For me and for everyone, it was devastating to lose him to injury last year,” Love said. “Just getting him back…he just has this way about him, this quiet confidence in him that you know what you’re going to get.”
With Rubio injured in the final year of his contract, the Cavs traded him to the Indiana Pacers in February to acquire guard Caris LeVert. On July 1, the Cavs and Rubio agreed to a three-year, $18 million contract.
“I was at a point in my career where I felt comfortable here, I knew the people, I knew what we were going to be,” Rubio said Monday during the Cavs media day at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. “I felt like it was unfinished business. I felt like we could have had a lot of success last year and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to really continue to build what we have. built last year.
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Rubio had no idea when he received his new contract what awaited him. On Sept. 1, the Cavs traded three-time All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, Rubio’s teammate with the Utah Jazz from 2017 to 2019.
Rubio, 31, has returned to training but was reluctant to share his personal schedule for his return. The Cavs also signed free agent Raul Neto to help out in Rubio’s absence.
“It changes every week,” Rubio said. “I wanted to be ready for training camp, but I knew that was impossible. Speaking with my coaches and medical staff, they say 10-12 months.
“I’m just going to move on to the next phase. I am in a phase of returning to practice. How long will it take? I have no idea. I can tell you about six weeks, then in five weeks I’m ready to play. I tell you 12 weeks and maybe it’s longer.”
Rubio hopes for December.
“Who knows?” he said. “At the end of the day, maybe I’ll play at the end of November or maybe I’ll play in January or February. I don’t want to put a date. But one thing is for sure, when I’m back, I’ll be 120%. “
At Media Day, Rubio looked in great shape. He said he hired a personal chef at his home in Spain for the first time in his career. His training team came up with a plan that also included the mental side of his recovery.
“When I came down, the first phase is of course a lot of thoughts and a lot of things going on in my mind,” he said. “But I have set myself the goal of coming back better than before the injury. I feel like I had the best summer I’ve ever felt in my career.
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Bickerstaff loves that Mitchell and Rubio have had a relationship since their Jazz days.
“How much Donovan showed his respect for Ricky and how much he said Ricky helped him, those are things that you don’t take back,” Bickerstaff said. “You have the opportunity to bring together guys who have been through these things and already have this experience, it just helps to mix the basketball piece faster.”
Rubio thought back to Mitchell’s rookie year in 2017, when he averaged 20.5 points in the regular season. In the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against Oklahoma City, the Thunder had Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Jazz were led by Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Rubio. Mitchell averaged 28.5 points and shot .465 in the series the Jazz won 4-2.
“I always remember coming into the playoffs and it was like, ‘OK, you had a good, good year, but the playoffs are coming and how are you going to react?'” Rubio said of by Mitchell. “I’ve never seen him play as a rookie like he did in his first year in the league. It takes a lot of courage and a lot inside himself to perform at that level during his first playoff experience.
“He grew up, but still had this hunger. He’s that player who can go into the playoffs and score 40 or 50 like he did in the bubble.
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Rubio recalled Game 6 against the Thunder, when he only played seven minutes before being injured. Mitchell scored 38 points in 40 minutes and the Jazz won 96-91 to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals against Houston.
“I’m going down with a hamstring problem,” Rubio said. “I was watching on the bench. He took over that game to clinch the series and that was something special. He’s that type of player. »
Another part of Rubio’s return to Cleveland was getting back on the field with Garland, though Rubio appears to be done with his mentorship days.
“I love playing with him and he’s one of the great roles I wanted to come back to to see his growth,” Rubio said. “But he’s an All-Star now and he’s on his own path. I feel like we had a connection last year and hopefully we can continue to build from there.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.