The Navarro Corollary

The functions of thought around Rubio are intensely complicated. Is he ready? Does he want to play here? Does  he have the right skill set? Will Kevin, Joe, and Nick get jealous of Ricky’s new found stardom, and will that affect the artistic merit of their work? Is his head screwed on right? Most of these questions are standard issue with any draft pick, outside of the Disney channel tie-ins. But there are two questions that struck me today.

Will his game translate?

Will he embrace the American lifestyle?

The reason for these questions is a person that I have a very complicated relationship with. Okay, maybe not relationship, because that requires both people to be actively involved. Unless you’re my ninth grade girlfriend, and you go dumping me to run off with that older dude. You whore. Anyway, these questions come to mind because there’s a player who’s been in a very similar situation to Rubio, and the ending does not follow the pattern that most people anticipate for those in Rubio’s situation.

I am, of course, talking about La Bomba. JCN. The Thrilla from Barcelona. The Running Floater of Doom. Juan Carlos Navarro.

Before we start to talk about this, let’s get some things out of the way. Navarro was drafted in 2002 by Washington with the 40th overall pick. Rubio was selected 5th overall by the Wolves. So Rubio’s a slight bit (say, $$$$$$$$$$$) more highly anticipated than Navarro was. Additionally, Rubio’s skill set is different, being more of a true point while Navarro is, was, and always will be a combo guard. And considering the numbers Ricky’s put up, he’s widely considered the better player. The intent of this is not to equate the players, but the very basic similarities in their NBA-related career prospects.

Navarro was a stud in Spain from the very beginning. Started playing for FC Barcelona at 17 and took the league by storm. Between 1997 when he began play and 2004, they won the ACB Championship 4 times. He has a gold medal, and so many European championship accolades it’s ridiculous. He was drafted when he was 21 (turning 22), but elected to stay in Spain. In 2007, after the Grizzlies acquired him to team with buddy Pau Gasol, he took a shot and came over.

Talk about bad timing.

That was the disaster season. The Memphis Apocalypse. The year of the Gasol trade. That season with Memphis was terrible for the team, the franchise, the players. But Navarro was a bright spot. He showed flashes of brilliance, but struggled the way any rookie, even a 27 year old, would in their first year in the league on a terrible team. 15 points per 36 ain’t bad, though, along with 3 assists and 3 boards and a steal. Nothing to light the world on fire, certainly. But he had nights when he’d score 28, put up 5+ assists, and play tremendously well. I was hooked on the guy, wanting to see how he would develop with a few more years in the league.

No, thanks.

Gasol was traded, and when Barcelona threw a colossal amount of cash at JCN that summer, he blew town. Wanted to try the NBA, tried it, thanks, that’s cool. Buh-bye.  He was named the Euroleague MVP last year :”””(

The impression you get from interviews with Navarro is that he just didn’t care that much about the NBA. He loves Spain. It’s his home. And versus the States, where there will be constant questions about his style, his ability, and his talent simply because he hasn’t played  in the AAU tournaments or Rucker Park or the NCAA Tournament, in Spain, he’s considered mega-successful. Would you rather be a pauper in heaven or a prince in Hell? What if Hell was actually your home, and instead of the brimstone pits, it was nice beaches, beautiful women, amazing food and way more money than you can make in heaven? The assumption that every great basketball player in the world will always have the competitive fire to be the best no matter the cost is, I’m sorry, a gigantic crock. It’s a fallacy brought upon us by Jordan, Garnett, and Nike. Rasheed Wallace has never lived up to expectations. But what I’ve learned about Sheed is that those expectations were never his. Dude’s a great family man, from all accounts. His teammates have responded well to him as he’s gotten older. And he has a championship. Tim Duncan may very well end up going down as one of the top five players of all time, and when it’s time to walk away? Duncan’s not looking back. The point is that Navarro wasn’t going to stay on a terrible team being paid less than what he’s worth just so he can compete in what is considered the most elite league in the world. Why would he do that?

If ESPN.com calls me up tomorrow and wants me to write for them, I would of course say yes, after I’ve confirmed with the authorities that the offices are not being held hostage by some deranged maniac and that this isn’t some elaborate joke perpetrated on me by Trey Kerby and Graydon Gordian. But if at the same time, a lesser organization were to offer me a full-time gig for more money and I would be able to move anywhere the wife wanted to? I’m grabbing that deal in a heartbeat. Being successful is successful enough for me. And in this scenario, at least I consider the alternative site to be less than ESPN.com. In Navarro’s mind, he may not think that at all.

Additionally, you have to look at the translation of his game. I’ll readily admit that the talent in the NBA is far superior to that in Spain. That’s been one of my sticking points with Rubio all along. But you can’t tell me that the talent disparity is enough to take Navarro from elite to solid back up with a PER of 11.  We know the guy’s extremely talented, so what’s the answer? Just as many, many college players’ games don’t translate to the NBA, so too is it difficult to go from the Euro style to the NBA. Navarro’s signature shot, the running floater in the lane, is pretty much one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It’s like a liquid sabre. But at the same time, I saw him get that shot knocked into the third row three times in two games once.  I still think in time he would have gotten a better feel for when to use it (God knows Chris Paul has), but the point is that what can make you great in Europe can make you only average in the NBA. And vice versa. It’s not like Josh Childress was knocking down doors over there (though he’s played well, by all accounts). We’re not comparing Kia’s to BMW’s here. We’re comparing five star fish restaurants to four star steakhouses. Different factors.

In an interview a few weeks ago, Navarro was talking about giving Rubio advice. You have to wonder how that’s going to play out for Minnesota. From all accounts, which Wolves fans will happily remind you of every thirty seconds, Rubio wants to play in the NBA more than anything in the world. It’s his dream, whatever that means. That certainly wasn’t the case with Navarro, who was always kind of like, “eh.” So even if Navarro is trying to warn him off of going to a terrible team for less money, he may not listen. Plus, the Wolves are in much better shape than the Grizzlies were in 07-08. But the fact remains that everyone talks about Rubio’s game developing as he gets older. What about his personality? What if he learns to really love his life in Spain as he gets older and gets to enjoy being a young man making millions of dollars in an awesome city?

The counter of course, is Pau Gasol. Gasol came in, made the top flight money as Rubio will, put up numbers, suffered in Memphis, never fit in, and managed to find his way to somewhere he can trash his former club and win championships while still making oodles and playing better basketball than he ever has (honestly, it’s time we start talking Pau Gasol in the top ten players in the league). So maybe Gasol will be able to advise him to stick it out and that playing with the best is awesome, and that he’ll wish they all could be California girls.

If he doesn’t, though, Rubio has to look at what happened with Navarro as a reason to always keep his options open. It’s not like it is here with the States, where if you’re a basketball player, you’re going to play in the NBA, or you’re not going to be happy. Rubio is on an international stage, and by extension, he has options galore. Finding those priorities, for his career, for his game, for his life, are what will eventually decide if he comes over here and stays, comes over and then bolts, or never comes over at all.

JCN, I miss you. I know it’s your home now, but please know we’re thinking about you, and we’d love it if you gave us another chance.

Unless it’s with the Lakers. That would not be cool.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.