You don’t need to tell Flip Saunders that his first draft as the Timberwolves new president of basketball operations appears, um, underwhelming.
His Twitter feed will tell him that after he entered a draft that became more wacky and unpredictable than even expected and came away with UCLA scorer Shabazz Muhammad and Louisville shot-blocking big man Gorgui Dieng without addressing his team’s two biggest needs.
“I’m sure it’s blown up and I’m sure it’s not real good,” he said. “Hey, that’s why you’re in this position. You have to own up to the picks you make. … I know people probably aren’t happy. We’ve got to fill a roster and there are a lot of ways to fill it.”
Wolves fans had hoped their team would fill it Thursday by adding pure shooters and a legitimately sized shooting guard, those two aforementioned needs.
They did neither in a draft that started with a shocker — Cleveland took UNLV’s Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in a move nobody expected — and continued when Charlotte took Indiana’s Cody Zeller fourth overall.
By the time the Wolves’ pick came up at No. 9, shooting guards Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all were gone. Saunders tried but couldn’t move up to take either Oladipo or McLemore after the selection of Bennett and Zeller upset the draft order.
“It was chaotic from the first pick,” Saunders said. “The guy that was not talked at all about going No. 1 went No. 1. That tells you.”
When Detroit took Caldwell-Pope eighth, Saunders improvised, turning to the fourth and final draft scenario for which they had planned. Rather than select Lehigh combo guard C.J. McCollum, he chose Michigan point guard Trey Burke and traded Burke to Utah for the 14th and 21st picks.
He used the first to select Muhammad and the second for take Dieng, who helped lead Louisville to the NCAA title in April. Saunders now says he’ll have to pursue veterans through trades or free agency to fill the shooting and shooting-guard needs that went unaddressed Thursday.
He then sold the 26th pick the Wolves owned to Golden State for cash in a deal that also sent guard Malcolm Lee away and brought a 2014 second-round pick in return, a move he says give the team a little more money on the salary cap.
Muhammad is the 19-year-old — no, wait, make that 20-year-old — who last summer was ranked No. 1 nationally in his high-school class and this summer became the most polarizing player in the draft after one up-and-down collegiate season.
Once a ballyhooed recruit, Muhammad looked listless in a season-ending NCAA tournament loss to the Gophers in March. He also pouted after a teammate took — and made — the final winning shot last winter because he didn’t get the ball at game’s end and was the subject of a Los Angeles Times story that detailed how his father choreographed his basketball career nearly all his life, including until recently lying about his age by a year so his son could have an edge over younger players.
Even Saunders was critical of him in the weeks leading to the draft, but Thursday praised Muhammad by calling him "a gym rat" who now will play with a "chip on his shoulder."
Muhammad said late Thursday night that he believes he is rebuilding his reputation, called his new team a “really good situation” and said he thinks a guy who has dominated the ball all his life will “fit well” in Rick Adelman’s passing system.
At last month’s Chicago combine, the natural small forward who also believes he can play some shooting guard called himself the “best player in this draft” and said he will his game and actions will refute the notion that he’s a pampered, selfish player.
“People say that a lot, me being selfish,” Muhammad said then. “Getting into the league, I can’t wait to shut that down. I want to play. I want to play basketball and win games. I don’t think I’m a selfish player at all. That’s one thing I can’t wait to clear the water. I’m a guy who wants to play and wants to win. I love my teammates.”
Muhammad’s arrival provides insurance for a Wolves team that will know by Saturday whether veteran small forward Andrei Kirilenko opts out of a $10.2 million contract for next season to become an unrestricted free agent.
“We wanted to get someone there,” Saunders said of the small-forward position. “He was the best small forward that we thought was ready to play. One thing about him is he has an NBA body. He might not be the most athletic but he’s physically strong. He’s going to be able to score in our league. That’s what he does.”