Five Minutes with Rudy Fernandez
The Spaniard is happy again in Portland.
by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
“I was so impressed with him that it was to the point where after the second time I saw him, I didn’t sleep that night because I was moving my rotations around. I swear I did not sleep. I could not sleep thinking about him. Because I’m saying, ‘We can put him here, do this with him, do that with him and Brandon and do this… So he’s playing for us. Oh yeah. I see that right now.”
—Nate McMillan, after watching Rudy Fernandez in the Olympics. The Oregonian August 28, 2008.
I like to check out the 2008 USA vs Spain Gold Medal game every few months—it’s an entertaining contest, high-level basketball played on the biggest stage. I watched the game again on YouTube last night, and as always, I was impressed with the play of Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez. The energy and confidence Fernandez displayed that day was dazzling: Playmaking, step-back threes and late in the game when Kobe gambled for a steal, he cuffed a nasty dunk on Dwight Howard.
Memories of Rudy’s performance were hardly on anyone’s mind last summer when he was fined $25,000 by the NBA after his agent Andy Miller publicly demanded a trade. Frustrated with his role and minutes, Fernandez was clearly unhappy but Portland refused to deal him despite being reportedly offered a first-round pick by several franchises.
Fernandez took a pay cut to leave Spain and play in the NBA on his rookie scale deal. He is making about $1.25 million this season and the Blazers hold his rights for next year at $2.1 million. Portland can extend him a $3.2-million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent for the ’12-13 season.
Surely, Fernandez wants to showcase has ability to the fullest in order to secure a lucrative future payday—the goal of many young players in the L. It’s become clear that Fernandez will have to do so in Portland, a notion that he has accepted.
He is averaging about 9 points this season in 24 minutes of action per night, a critical contributor for Portland off the bench. I had a chance to visit with Rudy last week at the Rose Garden after the team’s lopsided victory over Cleveland. It was St. Patrick’s Day and Rudy was festive, styling a lime green sweater complemented by white Gucci sneaks with a green accent. He was all smiles and very friendly after putting together 13 points, 5 assists and 3 steals in the Blazers’ 41-point win.
SLAM: You were really active early on tonight.
Rudy Fernandez: Yes. I have to. I pressed the point guard aggressively with my defense and my energy. Have fun, enjoy and play hard.
SLAM: Do you feel like you’re in a better place mentally right now than you were early in the season? Feeling more comfortable and confident?
RF: Absolutely. I’m enjoying my time on the court and the team feels better. We have to play together and as a unit.
SLAM: A lot has been made of you coming into the League after being a star in Spain. Can you tell me about some of the difficulties you have faced living in America?
RF: Sometimes it’s difficult, probably this year more than the other years because of the rumors this summer. You know, I have my head in Portland and I’m playing hard and focusing on my job. I’m focusing on basketball.
SLAM: Can you talk about those rumors? Do you want to stay in the NBA; is that a goal of yours?
RF: I enjoy it right now. On the court I feel better and I play free you know? I play confident. That is important for me right now. Coach trusts me with the plays, executing the plays. Yeah, I have fun on the court.
SLAM: How hard has it been being away from your family and close friends?
RF: It’s hard. For sure you miss your family, because probably for my teammates it’s a lot easier as far as travel. They don’t need visas, nothing. Sometimes it’s tough for my family to come visit me but its basketball…they try to come and visit for Christmas and holidays. Right now, it’s gotten better because I have great teammates.
SLAM: I have a friend in Spain who says several of the great basketball players there don’t want to leave the country. It’s a great place to live and you can play basketball there at a high level. But you followed your dream to play in the NBA, right?
RF: Yes, for sure. My dream is playing in the NBA. Right now I have the opportunity to play against the best players in the world. And I enjoy it right now on the court and I have some of the best teammates. They helped me with the transition every year and it doesn’t matter if my family is in town or not.
SLAM: I like your style. Where do you get your clothes here in Portland?
RF: St. Patrick’s Day! [Rudy smiles and extends his arms out, proudly showing off his look] It’s St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s green day. I do most of my shopping overseas. I like to shop in Portland but there are more stores in New York, Miami… and San Francisco is one of the best. Patty and me, every time we walk around San Francisco, we are killing the stores! [Laughs]