In his two seasons with the Utah Jazz, Ricky Rubio has been a lightning rod of sorts. There have been moments of brilliance and stretches of maddening inconsistency. Some fans have loved him for his passion and creativity; others have lamented his shooting inadequacies and claimed the team’s fortunes are inherently capped with him as its point guard.
During Thursday’s season-ending media wrap-up, Rubio reflected on all of it — the good and the bad, the successes and disappointments, and his uncertain future with the team.
He frequently peppered in phrases like, “I’m honest,” or “I’m not gonna lie,” and he indeed seemed to be forthright and candid. While no one asked the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent directly about whether he expects to be back with the Jazz next season, he did seem to acknowledge — in a response to a more general query about whether he’d thought about his future — that said future might well be somewhere else.
“When free agency comes, now that the season is over, I can start thinking and see where I want to go, where I can go,” Rubio said. “But one thing I’m gonna look [at] for sure is the best situation for me, with the coach and the team. … I want to be happy. I’m gonna try to find the best situation for me to perform and be happy.”
Left unsaid was whether he was happy with Utah, or how happy Utah was with him. Rubio has certainly bonded with the community here, though that won’t factor much into the bottom-line decisions to come.
For what it’s worth, while general manager Dennis Lindsey was noncommittal about Rubio’s prospects of returning, he also didn’t shut the door completely.
“There’s a lot of scenarios I could see Ricky back. We really appreciate who he is, we think we can get him better from a health/performance standpoint, from a skill standpoint,” Lindsey said. “We know who he is, and we know he has Jazz DNA. He’ll have options, we’ll have options, and we’ll talk to he and his agent. But I’m really, really pleased with the level of professionalism, care factor, level of competitor that Ricky is. So there’s definitely potential for it to go forward.”
Rubio, in the spirit of professed forthrightness, conceded that professionalism was tested midseason when his name came up in a proposed trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for point guard Mike Conley.
“Yeah, I’m not gonna lie — it affected me. We’re [people] and we have feelings,” he said. “… I tried to stay as positive as I could and focus on the team and what we were doing here, but it’s hard. A player like me, I play with heart, and you wanna go out there and play with heart, but you don’t know if tomorrow you’re gonna be here, so it’s tough.”
Lindsey acknowledged the situation was less than ideal, expressing disappointment that “a team leaked something that was unethical, and it became a monthlong referendum on Ricky.”
Rubio’s play seemed to suffer at the time, and battling injuries throughout the season certainly didn’t help. When the Jazz resorted to starting star guard Donovan Mitchell at the point while Rubio, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto were all simultaneously injured, a contingent of fans and some media pundits became vocal in suggesting the move should become permanent.
After all, the argument went, Rubio’s a career 38.8% shooter who has hit just 32.2% of his 3-point attempts. And this season, his deep shooting declined even from that, to only 31.1%.
In spite of it all, he became one of the team’s more solid playoff performers this month against the Rockets, averaging 15.4 points, 8.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game (though he did shoot just 20% from deep). And while he bemoaned the 4-1 series loss to Houston — arguing the Jazz “had what we needed to win [and] I don’t why we didn’t show it from the beginning” — he’s also proud of how he played.
“I gave it all — all I had,” he said. “Could I have played better? Yeah. But I’m finishing the season … with everything I had. I’m proud about it. … I just left it all out there.”
Rubio praised coach Quin Snyder for his playoff game plan, equating seeing him adjust his schemes for countering the Rockets to “watching Mozart perform — one of the best.” He also credited Snyder for “giving me the medicine to really play basketball.”
Now, though, he doesn’t know if that relationship will continue — though not for lack of people asking him. How can he, he pointed out, when so much of what’s to come over the next few months is dependent upon decisions that are entirely out of his hands? And so he, like most everyone else, will be waiting to see what happens.
“A lot of friends have asked me, ‘Yo, where you gonna play next year? Can I come visit?’ I don’t have any idea where I’m gonna go,” Rubio said. “A lot of things depend. If you’re LeBron [James] or [Kevin Durant], you can pick your own destiny. There’s a lot of things that depends [for me]; if [teams are] gonna need a point guard or not.”