Shabazz Muhammad in ‘really good situation’ with Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS — Thanks a lot, Cleveland.
That was at least part of the sentiment of general managers, media and fans around the NBA in the moments following the Cavaliers’ surprise selection of UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick.

The trickle-down effect from that decision turned the 2013 draft on its head, causing Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders to scrape the bottom of his contingency plan barrel and Shabazz Muhammad to funnel through hundreds of text messages and tweets to see if he’d heard from a fellow UCLA product by the name of Kevin Love.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been part of a draft this crazy,” Saunders said.
When the smoke cleared, Muhammad was making preparations to travel to the Twin Cities and be introduced Friday, ending up with the Timberwolves via a trade with the Utah Jazz that sent No. 9 overall pick Trey Burke to Salt Lake City for the 14th (Muhammad) and 21st (Louisville center Gorgui Dieng) draft picks.
For his part, Muhammad was just fine with what transpired.
“I think it ended up really well,” he said. “I think I ended up in a really good situation for myself.”
But such a topsy-turvy route to meeting only a portion of his team’s offseason requirements wasn’t what Saunders woke up hoping for Thursday.
“We addressed our defense inside, and we addressed our ability to score,” said Saunders, who took over personnel duties for the NBA’s worst 3-point shooting team last year. “We have not addressed our ability to make perimeter shots, so that’s something we’re going to have to address through trades and have to address through free agency.
“Sometimes, things don’t go the way you want.”
Muhammad’s a small forward that might be capable of playing some time at the two spot. Minnesota was more in the market for a shooting guard, given its hope that free agent Chase Budinger will be back and healthy next season.
But that position still tops the Timberwolves’ offseason wish list after what transpired Thursday.
Minnesota tried several avenues to trade up and grab what its personnel brass deemed a sure-fire shooting guard with an effective outside game. But with players considered top-three locks sliding outside the top five — Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and Kansas guard Ben McLemore chief among them — there simply weren’t any deals to be had, Saunders said.
Even attempts to move up a spot or two and ensure the services of Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — the last name in Minnesota’s highest-rated “box” of players, per Saunders — went awry. Detroit took Caldwell-Pope eighth overall, plunging the Timberwolves into the last course of action they’d planned for leading up to the draft —
trade down and take the best player available.
“We felt pretty confident that we were going to get one of our guys (at nine), but we didn’t,” Saunders said.
The Jazz instructed Saunders to select Burke with the ninth pick, taking Muhammad and Dieng in exchange and promptly trading them to the Timberwolves for the Michigan point guard — a position of need for Utah but overabundance for Minnesota.
Lehigh shooting guard C.J. McCollum was still available when the Timberwolves first jumped on the clock, but they favored Muhammad’s longer, stronger, 6-foot-5 frame. So instead of a major 3-point threat at shooting guard, Minnesota went with an overall scorer who’s been primarily a small forward.
Agile, muscular and supremely confident with the ball in his hands, Muhammad averaged 17.9 points per game in his only season at UCLA after ranking as America’s best high school prospect, according to Rivals.com. He’s a 37.7-percent 3-point shooter  not great, but not terrible — that can get to the rim and connect on pull-up jump shots as well.
He’s likely destined to back up Budinger to start his career, a precarious-looking role for a guy who pouted when his teammate made a game-winning shot and spent his pre-draft workouts and interviews trying to convince suitors he’s a good teammate.
Muhammad thought guard Larry Drew’s buzzer-beater against Washington should have been his to take — both a good and bad sign, in Saunders’ point of view.
“His greatest strength is he’s an unbelievable competitor,” Saunders said of Muhammad, who also served an NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits. “He’ll be able to score in the NBA, because that’s what he does.”
No arguments from the man himself.
“I have, definitely, a chip on my shoulder,” Muhammad said. “I really can’t wait to get to work.”
Desiring privacy over the national spotlight, Muhammad spent the draft’s early moments alone with his agent in a hotel room across the street from the Barclays Center in New York. Once the Jazz picked him, he made the short trek to shake hands with commissioner David Stern and say a few quick words on ESPN.
He left his phone off throughout the night and hadn’t checked to see if Love, the Timberwolves’ All-Star forward and a former workout partner of Muhammad’s, had checked in to welcome him to the organization.
Muhammad will have plenty of time to get acquainted, starting with an introductory press conference Friday afternoon alongside Dieng.
“I think I’m repairing (my reputation),” Muhammad said. “I think I’m just having a really good attitude with everything. I’m just going to come to Minnesota and just try to take as much learning as I can.”

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