In the early morning hours in Madrid, Spain, Rudy Fernandez packed his bags and prepared for the nearly fifteen-hour flight to Denver when he received an unexpected call from his new head coach.
George Karl explained to Fernandez everything was going to be alright with the Denver Nuggets, with Karl already carving out a “Sixth Man” role for the 6′-6″ swing guard on the team. With that 5:00 AM phone call, plans of inquiring about a buyout and an immediate return home to play for Real Madrid changed for Fernandez. The change of heart came less than 24 hours after Denver acquired Fernandez and Corey Brewer from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for a future second-round pick.
Before then, Fernandez, according to one person close to the situation, had intended to fly to Dallas to meet with Mavericks’ owner Marc Cuban, General Manager Donnie Nelson, and assistant General Manager Keith Grant essentially to say, “thanks, but no thanks” and seek a buyout from his $1.25 million dollar salary this season. The additions of both Vince Carter (claimed off waivers from the Phoenix Suns) and the signing of free-agent guard Delonte West, only provided more fire for Fernandez to flee.
“It would be the best move for both sides,” a league source said. “Rudy can be free to keep playing in Spain and the Mavs can go about their season with a sound roster.”
But such conversations were halted by two contributing factors: a two-week delay due to Fernandez needing to obtain his visa after the paperwork still had him listed as an employee of the Portland Trail Blazers, and the subsequent trade to Denver on Tuesday. It allowed just enough time for Dallas to make their move, one that Fernandez has chosen to accept.
“Now I owe to Denver is the team that has trusted me and I will give everything for the Nuggets,” Fernandez told the Spanish website Marca.com on Wednesday.
Then came Fernandez in his own words via his Twitter account: “Destination: Denver!! You have to expect surprises with the NBA so now to enjoy having fun with my teammates and working hard.”
What Fernandez leaves behind however is a jaded fan base in Spain, who thought he’d return to make good on his four-year deal with Real Madrid. These are the same fans who showered him with cheers after Fernandez helped Spain win the European Championship in Lithuania back in September, just months after Portland traded him to Dallas. Now the memory Fernandez leaves behind in Madrid is a scoreless night in 23 minutes of action against Maccabi Tel Aviv, an 88-64 win, in Euroleague play during his farewell.
That was 10 days ago.
That was back when every other Mavs’ player under contract was in Dallas undergoing their physicals and preparing for the start of training camp.
“Should I stay or should I go?”
It seems that’s the question Fernandez has been asking himself since he arrived in Portland from DKV Joventut back in 2008. Instantly a fan favorite with the Blazers, Fernandez went from finishing alley-oops and hitting threes, to stomaching coming off the bench behind then All-Star Brandon Roy, to not wanting to be in Portland at all. In August, 2010, the NBA fined Fernandez $25,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA,” following his agent publicly demanding a trade. By the time Fernandez reported to training camp in Portland that October, the fine had been paid but the feelings remained the same.
Fernandez wanted out.
Instead, he learned to accept his role.
“I think since October, we haven’t talked about him moving (back to Spain). It’s more, ‘what can you do better or what we need you to do’. It’s been about basketball. It hasn’t been about him going back home or trades,” said Blazers head coach Nate McMillan later that December.
By then, Fernandez — who averaged 8.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 78 games — had embraced his role, was confident with his place on the team, and production off the bench for Portland. He can help provide that lift for the Nuggets, if Fernandez can settle in smoothly and shake off any distractions of wanting to return back home if the road gets rocky in the Mile High City. Having former Blazers point guard Andre Miller run the offense should help the transition with the Nuggets, as will knowing that Coach Karl openly embraced him on the phone over 5200 miles away.
If there was ever a time for a fresh start, it’s right now in Denver.
But Rudy Fernandez just needs to get there first.
Wendell Maxey is a featured sportswriter living abroad in Nuremberg, Germany after spending the past eight years covering the NBA and sports at large in New York City and Portland, Oregon. A contributor writer for NBA.com and various newspapers in the States, Wendell has also appeared on NBA TV, NBA Radio on SIRIUS and ESPN Radio among other stations. He also operates Beyond The Beat on the Bloguin network .