MINNEAPOLIS (AP) A significant knee injury had become a distant memory, a lucrative contract extension was signed and Ricky Rubio was just starting to take control of the Minnesota Timberwolves and make them his team.
And with one wrong step, Rubio's ascendance to the face of the Timberwolves franchise was put on hold.
''I was feeling good, I think the best I've felt in the NBA,'' Rubio said Thursday, almost two weeks after severely spraining his left ankle in a game against Orlando on Nov. 7. ''Especially the game in Brooklyn. I was feeling like I'd found my tempo. I was leading the team. But it's something that happened, you can't take it back. Just have to get back as soon as possible to help the team and feel that way again.''
Rubio signed a four-year, $55 million extension on Oct. 31 and then had 17 assists in a loss to Chicago the next night before collecting 14 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in a win over Brooklyn to start a six-game road trip on Nov. 5.
Even more importantly, his confidence was swelling and he was taking charge of a team in search of an identity after trading Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer. In his first three seasons in Minnesota, Rubio generally deferred to Love.
Now with youngsters like Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine coming in to remake the Wolves roster, Rubio was becoming more comfortable with being the vocal leader of the group.
Then he drove to the basket against the Magic and stepped on Willie Green's foot, grotesquely rolling his ankle.
''When I went down, I felt a little pop and I knew it was over,'' Rubio said. ''Because as soon as I look, my ankle is swelling up already. I was afraid, I thought something was broken. But thankfully nothing was broken. Thank God for that.''
Rubio's promising rookie season was short-circuited when tore two ligaments in his left knee, a much more severe injury, which gives the ever-optimistic Spaniard reason for comfort. He's been through so much worse, and made it back. So a sprained ankle, no matter how painful, doesn't seem like such a big deal.
''Just another rock on my road,'' Rubio said. ''Just get over it.''
It is still too early to say when he will return to the court. The Timberwolves are waiting for the swelling to dissipate before they can do further tests to establish a clearer picture of the rehabilitation process. Rubio said it could be ''six, eight, 10 weeks'' depending on how he responds to treatment.
''I don't know how to say a time,'' he said. ''But my family is coming for Christmas, so I hope they can see me playing. But I don't know the time. It's going to depend. Everybody's different.''
Until then, Rubio is trying to help his depleted team - also missing Nikola Pekovic (wrist), Thaddeus Young (bereavement leave) and Ronny Turiaf (hip) - in other ways. He sat behind the bench for Wednesday night's victory over the New York Knicks and offered encouragement and advice to his teammates.
''At halftime before the coaches came and talked to us he was talking to us and telling us great job, keep the intensity up, just trying to help us out,'' forward Shabazz Muhammad said. ''That's what big-time players do. Ricky always does that stuff. He's a big-time guy.''
It's stepping outside of the box for Rubio, who has always preferred to let his work on the court do the talking for him.
''My English is improving, so I can talk to them more often and they understand me finally,'' Rubio joked.
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