Wolves announce shakeup to coaching staff, front office
MINNEAPOLIS — When Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor decided to hire Tom Thibodeau as coach and president of basketball operations and Scott Layden as general manager, many in the organization braced for sweeping changes to the front office and coaching staff.
Those changes arrived Friday, a few weeks after Thibodeau and Layden took over.
Milt Newton, the general manager who took the lead after Flip Saunders died from Hodgkin’s lymphoma just before the season began, and Arnie Kander, the sports science guru brought in by Saunders to help address the team’s difficulties in keeping players healthy, were among the most significant names not to be retained.
Layden also announced that vice president of basketball operations Rob Babcock, assistant coach Sidney Lowe, scouts Milt Barnes and Jason Hervey, director of sports performance Koichi Sato, manager of team travel/facilities coordinator Bill Hohenecker and head of video department and manager of basketball technology Brice Long would not be retained.
"We would like to thank all of these individuals for their contributions to our organization and wish them well in their future endeavors," Layden said in a statement issued on Friday evening.
Newton followed Saunders from Washington three years ago and played a big role in rebuilding the roster from one of the worst in the league to one teeming with young talent. He was Saunders’ right-hand man and was particularly influential in the draft, where the Wolves added Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. He also helped construct the three-team deal that nabbed Andrew Wiggins from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kevin Love.
"I’m proud of the core that Flip and I built and getting the organization going in a very positive direction," Newton told The Associated Press. "I wish the players well. I wish Scott and Thibs well. In the NBA you’re hired to be fired and it’s just part of the business."
Newton was thrust into an even more prominent role after Saunders’ shocking death in October, and he worked with interim coach Sam Mitchell to stabilize a shaken organization.
The Timberwolves won 29 games last season, 13 more than the previous season, and Towns followed Wiggins in 2014-15 as the NBA’s rookie of the year, making the job openings among the most desirable in the league this spring.
"I held it together. You never know given a situation like that, things can go haywire," Newton said. "Our guys were pros all the way through."
Kander is one of the league’s most highly regarded physical therapists and ended his brief retirement to come to Minnesota last year at the urging of Saunders. The two became very close during their time in Detroit, and Saunders convinced him to spend the season helping him to address a team full of players who had missed significant time due to injury.
With Kander on board, the Wolves led the league in players who played all 82 games and point guard Ricky Rubio got through the entire season healthy. But with Saunders gone, Kander was looking to take a reduced role next season to spend more time with his family in Colorado.
Babcock spent more than two decades with the Timberwolves in two different stints. He came back to Minnesota in 2006 after he was fired as GM of the Toronto Raptors and worked as an assistant general manager under Kevin McHale, David Kahn and Saunders.
Newton said he has had cursory conversations with a few teams, but had maintained his focus on the Timberwolves while awaiting word on his future. Now that he knows, he can go about looking for his next move.
Toward the end of the season, Taylor said Newton would remain in his position through the draft and free agency so the owner could fully evaluate Newton’s ability to do the job. But Newton said he harbored no ill will after Taylor abruptly changed his mind and hired Thibodeau and Layden.
"There is disappointment, but everyone is entitled to change their minds," Newton said. "At the end of the day, I don’t begrudge anyone changing their mind. Things like that don’t bother me to the core because that’s vain. I know that my God, I can hang my hat on His word. That’s all I’m worried about."
Layden’s announcement did not mention the names of assistant coaches Ryan Saunders, David Adelman, Bryan Gates and Vince LeGarza. Their fates remain unclear, though it is expected that Ryan Saunders will be retained.