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Shabazz Muhammad tries to find his footing as an NBA rookie

Former UCLA player Shabazz Muhammad has started slowly in the NBA Summer League with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he says he's not worried.

July 16, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Shabazz Muhammad is confident he'll get up to speed before his rookie season starts.
Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Shabazz Muhammad is confident he'll… (Jack Arent / Getty Images )

LAS VEGAS — Shabazz Muhammad rivaled any attraction along the Strip here two years ago.

Fans and college coaches followed him en masse from one gym to another during a summer club tournament, fawning over every shot and slick move made by the player who was then the nation's top high school recruit.

Back in his hometown this week, Muhammad has been indistinguishable from many other rookies and longshot hopefuls trying to prove they belong in the NBA.

The Minnesota Timberwolves swingman had another nondescript showing Tuesday during his team's 80-71 victory over the Miami Heat at Cox Pavilion in the Las Vegas Summer League, scoring seven points with one assist and three turnovers.

The crowd rarely reacted to anything Muhammad did, save for a few squeals when he went in for a left-handed dunk in the third quarter and missed. He made three of 10 shots and hardly looked like the phenom many had envisioned before a solid but unspectacular freshman season at UCLA preceded his being selected 14th overall in the draft last month.

It was not his first underwhelming performance. Muhammad has averaged 7.3 points on 34.6% shooting in his first three games in the summer league. Perhaps more troubling, he's averaging only 0.7 assists, down from the 0.8 average he posted as a Bruin.

"This is just practice right now to help me get experience to get in the league and I'm not sweating it," Muhammad said. "I'm just trying to play as hard as I can and it's going to work out for me."

The hits that keep on coming became literal Tuesday, when a Heat player yanked Muhammad's right arm, leading to a shoulder tweak. Muhammad said it was not serious and that he would be fine.

He's gained plenty of experience in shrugging off annoyances over the last year. There was the NCAA's three-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits; his age being revealed as 20 instead of 19 after The Times obtained a copy of his birth certificate; his horrid showing in the Bruins' NCAA tournament loss to Minnesota, when Muhammad missed his first eight shots; and the legal troubles of his father, Ron Holmes, who faces bank fraud and conspiracy charges.

Holmes attended his son's game Tuesday along with daughter Asia Muhammad and Faye Muhammad, Shabazz's mother. Holmes declined to comment when approached by The Times.

Muhammad said his father, who had orchestrated his rise to stardom from childhood, is no longer advising him about his basketball career.

"It's not as much hands-on as it used to be, but I mean that's expected as you're in the NBA now and he knows the coaching staff really cares about me and is going to help me out a lot," Muhammad said. "We just talk on the phone and that's it."

Muhammad has not been received warmly in Minneapolis, where Flip Saunders, the team's president of basketball operations, acknowledged being critical of Muhammad before the Timberwolves consummated a trade with Utah to acquire him on draft night. A columnist for the Star Tribune wrote that Muhammad "makes Kris Humphries look like Magic Johnson" because of his lackluster defense and selfish play.

The negative reaction prompted Muhammad to tell reporters that he would play with a chip on his shoulder, not that his summer league coach has seen it.

"To be completely honest with you, no," said David Adelman, son of Timberwolves Coach Rick Adelman. "I mean, what else do you have to prove? You're an NBA player and he got drafted in the lottery. We believe in him. I don't think he has anything to prove. He's just here to get better."

Things couldn't get much worse for a player who failed to secure an invitation extended to projected top picks in the green room on draft night last month at the Barclays Center. Muhammad watched the first part of the draft across the street with his agent and then scurried over to shake Commissioner David Stern's hand after six more selections had been announced.

Consider it just another irritation that Muhammad has had to put behind him, like the disappointing start to his summer homecoming.

"Now that I'm in the NBA," he said, "it's a fresh start and I'm just happy to be out here."

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