Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders said in an interview with Minnesota radio that Shabazz Muhammad, who was sent home from the NBA's rookie transition program, could be facing a trip to the Wolves' D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy, as punishment.
And, if it doesn't get better soon, things could get worse: New general manager Flip Saunders was pretty blunt when talking with KFAN's Dan Barreiro regarding the Muhammad situation:
“In our league, you have to be disciplined and being ‘disciplined' is being able to adhere to whatever rules are given and you gotta abide by the rules,” Saunders said on the local radio host's show. “So that's been disappointing. But when I talk to him, he's either gonna learn the rules and learn to abide by things with the big boys or he's gonna really quick learn a geography class: where Des Moines is in the NBDL down in Iowa.”
The NBA's Developmental League has been a lot more successful than most people are aware of. For smart teams, like Houston and San Antonio, it's been used to develop starter-caliber talent. More and more teams are investing full-time in their own teams, whether through ownership of the affiliate or the so-called "hybrid model" wherein a team owns the affiliate's basketballl operations.
Fourteen teams are set to have one-to-one relationships next season, squeezing the other 16 teams into just three affiliates. One of those teams is the Wolves and apparently Saunders isn't exactly up to speed on the best ways to use the D-League.
NBA people have told me of cases where an assignment for purposes of attitude or behavioral realignment has had success. But there are others where it only serves to alienate and frustrate the player. The bigger problem is how this fits in with a larger program, though.
Yes, it's an inconvience for the affiliate's coaches to be given a player with no instructions for his development and be forced to essentially "babysit" him in an NBA timeout. But the bigger problem is how it damages the league, reinforcing the stigma to players who need that development. The league needs to be shown as a place you can focus on developing skills and get better away from the pressure and intensity of the NBA environment, not an NBA gulag.
(Also, way to go Flip Saunders, insulting the entire city of Des Moines, because I'm sure most people think of Minneapolis as a paradise.)
Saunders told Fox Sports North in an interview that while the D-League is valuable ... well ...
FSN: With the way the Spurs have used the D-League, developed international talent — those are things that you have talked about — do you look at them as kind of a blueprint, and do you think the league is looking at them as kind of a blueprint?
SAUNDERS: In some ways, yeah. Here's the thing you have to understand: The D-League's a little bit of a misnomer how they used it. They got Danny Green, he got cut and he went to play for Eric Musselman (then the head coach of the D-League's Reno Bighorns and a former Continental Basketball Association colleague of Saunders'), and then they brought him back. So I think scouting the D-League is important; you have to do that, but not necessarily if you have a (D-League affiliate) does that mean that you're gonna be good at it. You've got to stalk, really, the whole league.
And then in Europe, what (the Spurs) have done, is they've got a lot of players that they either got in the second round or made trades for — just kind of throw-in players — and they let those guys develop overseas, and they brought them over when they played over there, and they've been successful, whether it was Ginobli or whether it was (Tiago) Splitter. And so everybody's trying to do that. It's what happened with us — look what happened with Ricky Rubio. He was developing (in Spain) and then coming over here and now really starting to flourish over here.
Right, because that ignores how many other rotation players the Spurs have gotten from or developed in the D-League, let alone the Rockets or other teams. But seriously, keep looking for that next Ricky Rubio, boss. Good job, good effort.
Muhammad actually could use some time in the D-League. Focus on strength training, working off-ball, learning the things he needs to. But threatening him with a tip to the Energy may work to get him in line, but is that a good approach for the Wolves overall?
The D-League can't be happy with this development. The league works to try and build its teams as a place where players can get better, not serve time. Saunders has an old school way of approaching things and maybe that will work great for the Wolves. But he'd be better served by focusing on what the D-League can give a player, rather than how it sucks to be there. Nobody wins there.