Ricky Rubio cracks that smile, the one that makes fans swoon, and blinks his impossibly long eyelashes. He has been asked a question and doesn’t want to answer it outright. He wants you to read the tea leaves a bit.

Rubio arrived at Game 4 wearing a gray sweatshirt during Utah’s first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Across the chest was the logo of the hit 1990s TV show “Friends.”

Was he sending a message? Did the sweater indicate anything beyond a wardrobe decision? Was it a message of timeliness in a series in which the teamcentric Jazz faced a three-headed superstar team they eventually bested in six games?

Rubio rubs his chestnut beard again when he’s asked the question.

“It could be?” he replies.

“Friends” is his show. He has seen every episode, 236 in all, as many as 12 times. He knows every episode by heart, all the jokes and heartbreaks and triumphs of a young group trying to find a place in the world.

It took Ross and Rachel 10 seasons to figure it out.

It has taken Rubio seven.

“We’re really friends here,” he answers. “You can really realize that the chemistry is building up. And it’s not just for now, in this moment. We have a really good group that we can go ahead and have good years of success, just because the foundation is so solid and so good that it can go forward.”

So when devastation was fresh, when a hamstring strain kept him out of the biggest game of his professional life in Game 6 against the Thunder, Rubio allowed himself an entire quarter to search for the why that has no answer. He was playing better than ever before, finally in the postseason for the first time in seven NBA seasons.

Ricky Rubio had made it, only to be reminded nothing goes according to plan.

“I realized that trying to find why wasn’t the resolution,” he said.

So he got dressed, emerged from the tunnel, walked toward the bench and took a seat where he has remained in the second-round series against the Rockets up until this point. It’s where he was needed, next to his friends, his basketball family.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) loos on from the bench during a disastrous first half. The Houston Rockets led the Utah Jazz 70-40 at the half of game 3, Friday, May 4, 2018.

Rubio’s hopes of suiting up for the Jazz Tuesday in Game 5 at Houston were quashed. He will remain sidelined. But as a special season appears to be nearing its conclusion — the Jazz trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series — it is quite the opposite for Rubio.

It’s a start.

Sign of better things to come

Rubio had been looking for something he never found during six years with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But it didn’t take long after his trade to Utah last summer before he thought he might have found it.

Rubio doesn’t divulge what the signs were, how they resonated with him or when it was exactly that he realized this is the place he’s been seeking all along. But he leans back in the plush chair and stares out on the practice courts inside the Zions Bank Basketball Center, a cool spring breeze blowing through the building.

He again leaves it open to the imagination, as any true point guard does — always in control, keeping all others on their toes.

“I believe in signs,” he said. “They were saying I should be here.”

It’s a rarity in this business, he explains, knowing every morning when you report to work, you’re not only supported but also wanted. It’s why Rubio is a fit in Salt Lake City after one season, part of an emerging young team in the cutthroat Western Conference.

As the Jazz struggled early, he thought about the bad games, the poor performances. He let them marinate. And when Rubio felt like he couldn’t find a groove, he stepped into the Utah Jazz practice facility one morning only to have coach Quin Snyder say forget it.

Sit down, watch some film, analyze everything in between and press on.

“We’re going in the right direction,” Snyder would tell Rubio. “And if we keep doing what we are doing, it’s taking time, but it will click, and at one point, it will work.”

It obviously has.

In a season still producing magical moments that few, if any, saw coming, it doesn’t get this far without Utah’s new point guard. Since he was the Barcelona teenage basketball prodigy, a lanky wizard on the ball whose vision some say reminded them of “Pistol Pete” Maravich, the 6-foot-4 point guard has been searching for a place that reminded him of basketball back home.

Rubio has found it here.

“He’s a playmaker,” said Rubio’s best friend, Lucas Charte. “He makes plays to make people feel better. That’s kind of his mentality, and that’s why I think he translates good to this team because he doesn’t want to be the main guy.”

Yet he’s become indispensable in his first season with the Jazz.

‘He’s a hell of a lot better’

Joe Ingles first saw a 19-year-old with shaggy hair bark out orders to players nearly twice his age on the court in Spain. That’s Rubio, and always has been.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) sits on the bench during the first period as The Houston Rockets led the Utah Jazz 70-40 at the half of game 3, Friday, May 4, 2018.

Ingles remembers thinking at the time, “Who is this young punk telling us what to do?” It was the Barcelona point guard, who would secretly wake up at 2 a.m. when he was young to watch point guard idols John Stockton, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd. Ingles and Rubio were roommates during their stint at Barcelona. Ingles, Utah’s small forward, said Rubio hasn’t changed a bit in his demeanor.

“Obviously now he’s a hell of a lot better player,” Ingles says with a laugh.

In the wake of last year’s offseason, when the Jazz saw their present and future flipped on its head, Ingles said what Utah required in the wake of the exits of Gordon Hayward and George Hill was what Rubio provides — someone willing to bark.

In all of his years in the NBA, Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said Rubio ranks in the top two or three players whose personality and leadership permeate throughout a team, which speaks volumes, considering Lindsey was with the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs during their respective heydays.

“He’s a guy that we all like,” Lindsey said, “and in many ways admire because of his benevolence off the court, his sincerity in the locker room, his competitiveness on the court.”

Rubio’s priorities haven’t stopped at winning in his first season in Utah. The 27-year-old is one of 10 finalists for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award, having taken on a strong role in the community in the fight against cancer. He’s donated money himself and hosted Ricky Rubio Lung Cancer Awareness Night this year, a nod to his mother, who died after a battle with the disease in 2016.

Waiting on his hamstring to heal has been brutal, but he’s found ways to fill up his days. He visited, unannounced, a woman battling cancer in the hospital after a film session Saturday afternoon.

While he refuses to compare his time in Utah with Minnesota, Rubio vows he wouldn’t be the player he is now for the Jazz without those years learning to quarterback a team in Minneapolis.

“I enjoyed every good moment,” he said.

It became clear last season, however, that the days with the T-Wolves were numbered. Trade rumors began popping up in the winter of 2017, and it became clearer Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau wanted a shoot-first, score-first point guard. He wanted what the T-Wolves believed Rubio wasn’t. The Jazz took the opposite approach, encouraging Rubio to embrace his inner scorer, and he’s responded with a career year offensively.

“It’s just apples and oranges, but look,” Lindsey said, “as unselfish as Ricky is, it feels good to shoot a career-high from 2 and 3 and make some clutch baskets.”

Lindsey pointed to Rubio drilling the game-winning 3-pointer at Toronto on Jan. 26 as a step in the evolution of this season’s team, which proved to everyone — including Rubio — that he could be more.

“They could’ve traded him to Utah or a team in Russia and it still would’ve been the same kind of feeling of, ‘Well, you don’t believe in me. You don’t believe I can get this done,‘’’ said Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, who covered Rubio for all six years in Minnesota. “He’s always achieved with a high level of confidence. If he’s in the right situation, things will work out.”

Finding family

The Spanish national team is known throughout the international basketball realm as “La Familia.”

“It’s not just a nickname,” Charte said.

It was there that Spain’s golden era of basketball featured a teenage point guard sensation, the Gasol brothers and several other future NBA players. They taught Rubio from the time he was 16 that the team represents something larger than individuals, that no player has demands, and that if you have aspirations to be part of the family, you’d best find a way to fit in on Day 1.

“In Spain, you are really close to each other,” said another one of Rubio’s lifelong friends, Josep Heredia, “so that kind of mentality and that kind of basketball that they are playing, that they are really close, all the guys don’t have this huge ego, so everybody feels on the same level. That helps a lot.”

That encapsulates this Jazz team, too.

Ingles said when he relays the vibe of this roster to friends throughout the league, they say, “That’s not the NBA. That’s not how it is.” On some teams, Ingles said, you fly to cities together, but you might not see your teammates until a morning shoot-around or even the game itself.

“We’ve got a different group,” he said.

Rubio obviously agrees.

“They say when you go on the court, you can’t show any weaknesses,” he said, “but at the end of the day, you’re a person, you have feelings, so my teammates are family. You can show your feelings without them judging you.”

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Team mates including injured Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3), center, greet Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) after he fouled out of the game. The Rockets beat the Jazz 100-87, Sunday, May 6, 2018.

Even for those who covered Rubio like Krawczynski, it was clear that if he ever managed to find a fit that was similar to La Familia, he could thrive.

“It has to be more than just we’re bringing five guys out there and running plays,” Krawczynski said. “I think in Ricky’s mind, there needs to be a connection, a chemistry with the coach, with the players, so that they’re operating on a higher plane. He was always trying to get that here in Minnesota.”

Rubio might leave some questions open to interpretation, but on more than one occasion, he used the same phrase when describing this phase of his life and what lies ahead.

“This,” he said, “is the team.”