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The Wolves' Dilemma with the D-League

It appears Flip Saunders won't be quick to send players to the D-League this season. Here's why.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I saw someone passively-aggressively make a remark about my morning post yesterday, which included a few examples of multimedia images such as embedded tweets and a Vine video. So, here's a grip of words that tell a story (I think). Less integrated links and such. I know, I know, there's no pleasing everyone. Today, someone will complain about the lack of variety.

Moving on...

Reporters, bloggers and Wolves employees surrounded Thaddeus Young, Andrew Wiggins and Nikola Pekovic in the locker room at Target Center. The home opener had just finished, a victory over the Detroit Pistons.

I had never been inside the Wolves locker room before.

Upon entering, I briefly listened to what Pekovic but walked toward Zach LaVine, simply because there was nobody else around him. I've asked him a few questions before, unlike some of his teammates, so I figured what the hell.

How'd it feel?!"

This was my question. Not a very well-crafted, hard-hitting inquiry -- whatever.

His response:

How'd what feel?

This is the type of thing that can happen when, open endedly, asking an athlete a question. You leave yourself open to looking like an idiot. LaVine wasn't eager to tell me he was excited about playing just four-minutes in his NBA debut- his team's first victory of the season -but after a split-second of awkwardness, he quickly continued.

It felt good to get my feet wet. It's a process.

Flip Saunders said after the game they'd try to get LaVine some playing time against the Bulls but that, ultimately, didn't happen. The Wolves other rookie, Glenn Robinson III, has yet to log time in his professional career. Currently, considering how Andrew Wiggins and second year players Robbie Hummel, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng are being used in the rotation, there isn't much playing time available for Robinson III.

As outsiders we consider the D-League a potential destination for rookie players, but I don't think an assignment is in the works for LaVine or Robinson III -- at least not anytime soon.

Last season, Shabazz Muhammad played well over a three-game span with the Iowa Energy. Outside of maybe Othyus Jeffers, Muhammad was far and away the best player on the court during time with the D-League. It gave him a chance to get on the floor and play, which is something he really wasn't doing under Rick Adelman.

Late in the season, Muhammad served as a competent role player off the bench and, this year, is showing no indication he'll need to spend more time in the D-League. The assignment was a success!

Now, the Wolves relationship with the D-League is different. There are 17 one-to-one relationships between NBA and D-League franchises. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are the only remaining shared affiliate. The Wolves are 1 of 13 teams who share the Mad Ants.

Each D-League affiliate is allowed to host only four-assignments. If one of the 13 teams affiliated with the Mad Ants wishes to assign a player that would push the Mad Ants past the roster limit of four NBA players - or of two NBA players at the assigned player's position - the NBA team will be allowed to ship the player to another D-League franchise.

Flip Saunders, who has said on a number of occasions that he is a proprietor of minor leagues, doesn't appear to seem comfortable sending Robinson III to play with the Mad Ants.

"You don't want him (Robinson III) to go down somewhere where he might not play. If we find situations where it's conducive for him to do that, we'll utilize that. If not, he'll be able to practice with our people."

At the Las Vegas Summer League Saunders acknowledge the importance of the D-League, but he believes there is a distinct-next step it must take before it really arrives. "It's very important." Saunders said; "I believe when we get to a point where there's a D-League team for every NBA team that's when we've really arrived. That's the next step."

Perhaps if the Wolves had their own affiliate Saunders would have no trouble sending Robinson III, or maybe even LaVine, on assignment to the D-League. LaVine has played only four-minutes through three contests and Robinson III has yet to even be activated for a game this season.

Currently, the team is on a road trip that won't bring them back to Target Center for a home game until November 19th. As Eric said, the Wolves are traveling about on a North American Odyssey.

In this video at Timberwolves dot com you see Andrew Wiggins answering questions after practice. A microphone enters the video from an awkward angle and, low and behold, it was Zach LaVine fooling around on a chair to the side of the platform-type-thing Wiggins was standing on. Through laughter, Wiggins explained he overpacked for the long road trip just to be sure he would have enough stuff.

Just by the horseplay going on in that video, it's easy to see there's some team bonding between the Wolves group of youngsters. It can be easy to forget there are relationships happening behind the cameras and off-the-court. This is why, for now, I don't think Saunders has any intention of placing LaVine or Robinson III on an assignment.

While LaVine appeared frustrated about not playing very much during the home opener, he certainly understands his development is going to take some time. That doesn't mean he is going to view this optimistically, nor should he be expected to; LaVine is a competitor who plays like there's something to prove each time he steps on the floor.

I didn't get the chance to talk to Robinson III when I was in the locker room. He is the primary subject of D-League speculation, but has sustained a level of professionalism one can only expect from the son of a former NBA player. In this Star Tribune Column, Kent Youngblood explains;

He's (Robinson III) willing to do whatever the team asks, calling himself "a great learner. ... a great listener and observer. I don't see a problem with [either option]. My job will be to learn. If that means [going to the D-League] to get playing time, I'll do what I have to do there. I wouldn't mind that. But being here with these guys, I learn a lot every day, too.


If the Wolves do chose to send players to Fort Wayne this year, Jeff Potter, President of the Mad Ants, has stressed communication between NBA team and D-League affiliate can alleviate any concerns. The Mad Ants were the first D-League team to serve as an affiliate for three-NBA teams - six clubs called the Mad Ants their D-League affiliate last season.

Potter, reigning D-League Executive of the Year, tells the Washington Post; "It sounds like a big juggling act, and it is. There's some difficulties to it, but if you're on top of it and able to communicate, you can stay in front."

Keep in mind, it's the Wolves responsibility to obtain their own D-League club if they don't like the circumstances involved with sharing an affiliate.