ANAHEIM, Calif. – Shabazz Muhammad spent a couple weeks working out with the Lakers at their practice facility this offseason as he mulled what move to make next.
He bonded with the Lakers’ roster as he played pickup games with them and trained alongside them. He got a chance to talk to Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ legend currently serving as the team’s president of basketball operations and spoke with Los Angeles coach Luke Walton.
“He actually fit really well with our guys,” Walton said. “He was a pleasure to have around for the couple weeks he spent with us.”
“It was a good environment,” Muhammad said, “and I’m happy I got the chance to go over there and work on my game.”
Muhammad, a lifelong Lakers fan who lived in the Los Angeles area until he was 5-years-old, when he moved to Las Vegas, still has family in the area. It would have made plenty of sense for him to sign with the Lakers. Yet he chose to re-sign with Minnesota on a one-year, minimum-salary deal.
“I’m happy to be a Timberwolf,” he said Saturday, “and happy to get this season going.”
If Saturday night’s preseason opener was any indication, he made the right call. Muhammad finished with 22 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes to power the Wolves to a 108-99 win over the Lakers. He played the most minutes of anyone on the Wolves’ roster, as was the spark plug for each one of them.
“He’s always shown that he has ability and he’s always provided a spark, but he’s playing at such a high level right now and he’s playing with such great intensity and he’s doing it for an extended amount of time, too,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I think the fact that he’s young, he’s only going to get better and better.”
The performance backed up what players and coaches had said about Muhammad throughout the Wolves’ training camp this week. On the first day, Taj Gibson said Muhammad stood out. Thibodeau couldn’t go through a post-practice media availability without praising the reserve wing.
“I’ve been telling you guys from the start of camp,” Thibodeau said with a smile, “so it was good to see it translated over to the game, but he’s been playing like that every day in camp. He’s had a great camp, he’s in great shape, so that’s good. It’s a big plus.”
The challenge moving forward for Muhammad is to bring this level of consistent effort and performance throughout the season. He’s had flashes of brilliance before, but this might be different.
“I feel great,” he said. “Our training camp was great, we did a lot of good stuff and I haven’t been tired at all. I’ve been running up and down the court and I think that’s the biggest thing for us. I think this is going to be a big year for me.”
By Jace Frederick