Newly signed Kevin Martin won’t play with the Timberwolves until October, but he reached out a veteran leader’s hand to first-round draft pick Shabazz Muhammad after the former UCLA star got kicked out of the NBA’s rookie orientation program for breaking the rules.
Martin asked the Wolves for Muhammad’s phone number and called him for a chat.
So, too, did Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders after Muhammad was sent home after the first of four scheduled days to having a woman in his room. The program’s rules say no guests are allowed.
“We talked,” Saunders said. “The biggest thing in any situation where there are rules and guidelines, you have to abide by them. That shows discipline. As I explained to him, part of being successful at our level is being disciplined, both on and off the court …
“He didn’t have much to say. He was very apologetic and just felt extremely disappointed in himself. We talked about his situation and his past, so you have to take what is a negative and turn it into a positive.”
Muhammad likely will be fined by the league and will have to return next summer with the 2014 rookie class to complete the program.
On Friday’s weekly KFAN radio appearance, Saunders said Muhammad will receive a fast geography lesson about where Des Moines is if he doesn’t abide by the rules. The Wolves’ NBA Development League team is in Iowa’s capital.
“That wasn’t a threat,” said Saunders, who coached in the Continental Basketball Association once upon a time. “That was just saying I’m a CBA guy, I believe in the minor league system and I believe players are down there because they lack the skill to play at our level, don’t have the confidence or don’t have the mental frame. If you don’t have any of those three, then that’s where you go to develop to be successful in our league.”
Saunders said the team will not impose any punishment. “This is a league situation,” he said.
Still positive on Pek
Saunders said he remains confident the team will reach contract terms with restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic before training camp opens in October.
“We’re moving in a positive direction,” he said. “I still believe he wants to be here. I believe we are the best situation for him. He has had some success here. Success is not guaranteed in this league. … I’m confident we’ll have a meeting of the minds.”
Pekovic will not play for his home country of Montenegro in next month’s European championship because of the risk of injury until he signs an NBA contract that is expected to guarantee him $48 million or more with the Wolves. That decision came last week. Wolves guard Ricky Rubio will play for Spain and Alexey Shved will play for Russia in the tournament, being held from Sept. 4-22 in Slovenia.
“If you have players who are going to play in that, you want them to have the proper ability to get ready to play,” Saunders said. “I think Pek was getting to the point of no return, where he felt he wouldn’t have the proper time to get ready to play without risking some type of chance of injury.”
Saunders said he has received permission from Washington to interview Wizards Vice President of Player Personnel Milt Newton for a front-office position and intends to do so.
A forward on Kansas’ 1988 NCAA championship team, Newton is expected to be hired for a player personnel/scouting type general manager’s role while current executive Rob Babcock continues to work with contracts, agents and other front-office duties.
The Wolves expect summer-league players Robbie Hummel, Lorenzo Brown and Othyus Jeffers to be in training camp, Saunders said. The Wolves drafted Hummel in the 2010 draft’s second round and Brown in the June draft’s second round.
The Wolves will have 14 players under guaranteed contracts once Pekovic signs. Saunders said he prefers to keep that 15th and final spot open “in case something happens and somebody gets hurt.”