MINNEAPOLIS — With the Timberwolves’ exoskeletal makeover complete, Flip Saunders decided some extra help is needed to keep front-office matters churning efficiently.
The team announced Friday the long-rumored hiring of Milt Newton as its new general manager, providing Saunders the right-hand man he’s desired since rejoining the franchise in May. Given his vast web of NBA connections, Minnesota’s president of basketball operations didn’t have to look very far.
Newton comes to the Northland after a decade in Washington, D.C., where Saunders spent the final three seasons of his coaching career. The two joined forces to bring players to the nation’s capital and will have a similar working relationship in Minneapolis.
“I have followed Milt closely during his career and have always been impressed with his basketball knowledge, work ethic and professionalism,” Saunders said in a statement. “His front office experience in the NBA, as well as his ability to combine analytics evaluation with his basketball playing and scouting background will greatly benefit our organization.”
While Saunders maintains autonomy when it comes to personnel decisions and will continue to rely heavily on coach Rick Adelman, the pair now have a third confidant to share input and handle some of the legwork that comes with procuring talent — organizing and facilitating workouts, wining and dining draft and free-agent targets, and scouting, to name a few of many duties.
Nothing new to Newton.
He comes to Minnesota after 10 years as Washington’s vice president of player personnel — a lengthy tenure in any organization, especially one that hasn’t broken the 30-win plateau in the past five seasons. In that capacity, he singlehandedly crafted the organization’s prospect database and oversaw the pre-draft workout and evaluation process. Newton is also on the league’s undergraduate advisory committee.
Before filling those roles, he spearheaded the creation of the NBA D-League and served as its director of player personnel for three years.
“Milt possesses an extraordinary skill set that is a great fit for the Timberwolves organization,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “His exceptional work ethic and basketball acumen played a large role in the launch and success of the NBA Development League. I am extremely pleased for Milt and the Timberwolves who will no doubt benefit from the tremendous experience he brings to their front office.”
A native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Newton played at Kansas and won a national championship under coach Larry Brown in 1988. He went on to a professional career in Belgium, Australia and the Continental Basketball Association before joining up with the Philadelphia 76ers’ scouting department, then jumping on the D-League project.
He is involved on an international level, too. In addition to serving as USA Men’s Basketball’s assistant director from 1995-1999, Newton has directed NBA Basketball Without Borders camps and orchestrated charity projects in Johannesburg, South Africa and Dakar, Senegal.
His wife, Shalaun, graduated from Minnetonka High School.
After the first Saunders-directed offseason since he took over for David Kahn, the addition of a rookie scouting expert ahead of a staunch 2014 draft pool beefs up the Timberwolves’ chances at landing a prize pick. This year’s crop ran a bit thin, and Saunders came out of the draft admitting Minnesota hadn’t filled its primary needs in selecting small forward Shabazz Muhammad and center Gorgui Dieng in the first round.
But re-signing center Nikola Pekovic and small forward Chase Budinger and landing shooting guard Kevin Martin, wing Corey Brewer and big man Ronny Turiaf in free agency filled gaps the draft couldn’t. Saunders handled those transactions, with frequent direction from Adelman and owner Glen Taylor.
The idea of hiring a separate general manager was raised early on in Saunders’ tenure, and Newton’s name has been at the forefront of such discussions for months. Media reports of his hiring surfaced last week.
Saunders has said his mission is to continue building around the core of Pekovic, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. As of Friday, Newton shares the same undertaking.