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Updated: January 4th, 2014 11:20pm
Shabazz Muhammad sees upcoming D-League stint as a key opportunity

Shabazz Muhammad sees upcoming D-League stint as a key opportunity

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Whether you consider it a logical avenue towards long-term improvement or simply want to call it a demotion, Minnesota Timberwolves rookie forward Shabazz Muhammad is headed to the NBA Developmental League.

Although he had a pretty good sense the move was coming, Muhammad was informed Friday by Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders of the team's plan.

Muhammad, the 14th overall pick in the 2013 draft, took the news of his new assignment well, seeing it as a positive step.

"There's a lot of guys ahead of me right now on the team, so that's something I just need to go ahead and do and just play hard," Muhammad said Saturday prior to the Wolves' 115-11 loss to Oklahoma City. "It gets me really excited to go out and play and show everybody I can play. I'm looking forward to it."

For now, Muhammad's D-League stint appears it will be brief. The plan is for Muhammad to leave Sunday to join the Iowa Energy in Reno, Nev., where the squad plays back-to-back games on Tuesday and Thursday. Muhammad said he expects to play in "a couple games" when the Energy return to Des Moines.

In his talk with Saunders, Muhammad said the Wolves president told him he would keep tabs on him daily and plans to be in Des Moines next weekend to watch a game.

The move, from most angles, makes total sense. Muhammad has played only 42 total minutes in the first two months of the season (12 points), the majority of those minutes coming with games already decided. On top of that, Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf are nearing their returns from injuries and will make for even less bench minutes to go around.

It comes down to getting Muhammad the time needed if he is to unlock the potential the Wolves saw when they gambled on him with their top draft pick.

"He just needs to get minutes," coach Rick Adelman said. "He needs to get on the floor. I think that's the biggest thing."

"I had Aaron Brooks who went down in Houston (in 2008). We sent him down, situations happened and all of sudden he's playing big minutes for us. It really helped him. It got his confidence going, got a chance to get on the floor. We're hoping that happens to 'Bazz."

Still, being sent to the D-League, no matter how long the stay might be, can be a tough assignment to swallow. Muhammad said all the right things Saturday, displaying a subtly determined attitude with his usual self-confidence.

The critical step now is to back up that talk. As Muhammad admitted, his NBA status will attract plenty of attention from opponents. Not letting that get to him will be a telling sign of Muhammad's progress. A solid run with the Energy could be enough to earn more of an in-game look from Adelman. But if he comes up flat, his stay could be prolonged.

The message to Muhammad has been to take this step not as a demotion, but as a crucial opportunity. That is easier said than done, but he received a vote of confidence from Adelman that it will work out.

"I think everybody says that to him," Adelman said. "It's still hard when you're up in the NBA and you're being sent down some place. I don't think it's an easy situation. But just the way he's handled the not playing, he's been terrific all year, his attitude, the way he's approached everything. I think he's going to be fine."

Notes

• Close games have been a killer for the Wolves. It happened again Saturday when they faltered in the waning seconds of a back and forth bout with the Thunder. With the loss, the Wolves are 0-9 this season in games decided by four points or less.

Kevin Love was forthcoming in owning up to the free throws he missed late against the Thunder. After converting on a shot despite an Oklahoma City foul, Love missed the chance at the line to put the Wolves ahead by one in the final 30 seconds. Later, with 2.2 seconds left and down by two, Love drew a huge foul from 3-point range. However, all three shots came up short (he missed the last one intentionally).

"I just missed them," Love said. "I was more upset about the first one I missed. I left it short. I think they were flat, short. There was no real air under them. I just missed them.

However, center Nikola Pekovic put the blame not on Love, but on an overall letdown by the Wolves in the final minutes.

"Of course he said he was sorry, but it wasn't his fault," Pekovic said.

• Forward Luc Mbah a Moute sat out with a groin injury, which slowed him down Wednesday against New Orleans.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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