To say Shabazz Muhammad‘s journey into the NBA is unique would be an understatement. Last season, Muhammad was ruled ineligible for the UCLA Bruins season opener against the University of California in Irvine last season as a result of violations of amateurism rules. The NCAA determined Muhammad accepted travel and lodging benefits while making three, separate unofficial visits to different universities.
There was also the controversy surrounding Muhammad’s age, which, can be simply be attributed to Muhammad’s father following through on something he started long ago, ensuring that his son would become an NBA player.
Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams wore light-blue “Free Shabazz” T-shirts during warm-ups before the Bruins tipped-off against UC Irvine. Michael Balzary, otherwise known as Flea, guitarist for the band Red Hot Chilli Peppers, participated in the movement by sporting one of the shirts while playing the national anthem.
Muhammad played 32 games for the Bruins and was eventually drafted 14th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Flip Saunders, who had recently been appointed as the organizations President of Basketball Operations, had traded the Wolves ninth overall selection to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the 21st overall selection, in addition to Muhammad. Because Wolves’ point guard Ricky Rubio has struggled scoring the basketball, and due to the number of recent “mistakes” made by the team’s front office, many have questioned the move Saunders made on draft night. However, Muhammad may have not done himself any favors. The Wolves first selection in last summer’s draft was sent home from NBA’s Rookie Transition Program Camp early after violating a league rule, Muhammad had brought a female guest into his hotel room — another proverbial ‘woops’ on an already checkered past.
Because Derrick Williams, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham and Robbie Hummel all began the season ahead of Muhammad on the Wolves depth chart — as well as suspicions that Rick Adelman lacks an inclination to play younger players — the Free Shabazz moment found resurgence. Eventually, Williams was traded, but that didn’t provide more playing time as the Wolves acquired Luc Mbah a Moute, a premier defender that Adelman would use to defend an opponent’s most elite scoring threat. Expecting Chase Budinger‘s return back in early January, Minnesota assigned Muhammad to play in the D-League showcase located in Las Vegas, Nevada (Muhammad’s hometown).
Muhammad played in four games with the Iowa Energy, the shared NBDL affiliate. He averaged 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting and 10 rebounds during that brief span. Fans embraced the move, Muhammad had only averaged four minutes per game prior to the assignment and playing with the Energy provided him with a chance to simply get on the court, people merely wanted to see him play.
After returning from his assignment with the Energy, Muhammad began seeing the floor more often. Between his return from the D-League on January 13th but prior to Tuesday night, he appeared in nine games, played an average of eight minutes, scored four points, and collected two rebounds in the slightly opened window of playing time. On Tuesday, the injury depleted Wolves were in Phoenix taking on the Suns.
The absence of Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic has forced Adelman’s hand in terms of his player rotations. Budinger has slid into the starting shooting guard slot, replacing Martin, while Cunningham joins the starting five to play in the frontcourt next to Kevin Love. Alexey Shved has underperformed most of the season, as has Hummel, so yesterday Adelman made the decision that many have been waiting on — some even as far back as last year — and “Shabazz” was finally let free.
Muhammad scored 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting. He also had six boards, but more importantly — hustled to make every play necessary in order for the Wolves to defeat the Suns. Minnesota is in the midst of an improbable push for the playoffs. It’s been the Wolves inability to win tight games, similar to the one played last night in Phoenix, that has them over five games outside of the postseason picture. The “Bazzmanian Devil” (And only I have called him that) brought a whirlwind of chaos during the fourth and final quarter. Muhammad scored 10 points, snagged three pivotal offensive rebounds, and — after collecting the ball during an urgent scramble with under two minutes remaining in the game — made a bounce pass to the streaking Corey Brewer. After collecting the feed, Brewer slammed the ball through the rim and put the Wolves up by five — helping to close the door on the Suns.
Finally, on a warm February night in Phoenix, whilst still in the midst of a cold, Minnesota winter — and albeit the Wolves future remains bleak — Shabazz Muhammad was finally let free.
Shabazz Muhammad is officially free.