After 10 NBA seasons — plus playing professionally at the highest levels in Spain starting at 16 — Ricky Rubio has evolved into a go-to mentor in the NBA. He took Donovan Mitchell under his wing. Same with Devin Booker. Last season in Minnesota he was talking to Anthony Edwards.
After being traded to the Cavaliers this offseason, Rubio has set his sites on the next young player to help: Darius Garland.
“I think one of the hardest things to do in the league is not having a great year, but it’s having a better year when you had a great year,” Rubio said. “All the attention is going to be on you, all the pressure is going to be on you. The challenge you’re going to have is more mentally than anything else. ‘I already did that. Do I have what it takes to be even better?’
“It takes a lot of energy to have the year that he had last year. He had great numbers, great year. But that can translate to a winning team. I’m going to have to challenge him in that area. I’m going to bring my experience the same way I did with Booker, the same way I did with Donovan Mitchell, the same way I did with the young stars that I had on my team.”
Cleveland has Collin Sexton, the team’s leading scorer but a player whose name came up in a lot of trade rumors this summer. Garland — along with Isaac Okoro, just drafted Evan Mobley — are seen as the core players of the future. For the next few years, Jarrett Allen is in that mix as well.
Rubio is realistic — those young players are not going to listen to him at first. But as the experience and losses pile up, their ears will open.
Having Rubio around should provide solid on-court play and be a good voice in the locker room for the young Cavaliers when they are ready. Rubio said he plans to lead by example, help coach J.B. Bickerstaff build a culture that can win down the line. In an improved East, a lot of those lessons also will come through tough losses this season. It’s going to take time to build the Cavaliers into a playoff team. Rubio just wants to do his part.