The negotiations that lured Milt Newton from the Washington Wizards to the Timberwolves were conducted in strict secrecy. Not by the two basketball organizations, but between Newton and his in-laws.
Newton, in fact, said he managed to keep it from his wife’s parents “until the day I was offered the job” of becoming the Wolves general manager, which came about three months after Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders asked the Wizards for permission to interview Newton.
There was a good reason for the secrecy: The in-laws, William and Shadra Hogan — William is a former University of Minnesota Regents chairman — are longtime residents of Minnetonka, and Milt’s wife of 19 years, Shalaun, is a graduate of Minnetonka High School. Newton, who called becoming a GM “my dream of 22 years,” had been down the road before of “big buildup, big letdown,” and wasn’t about to make it an extended family experience.
This time, his hopes were fulfilled with a position he describes as “a perfect fit,” both professionally and personally, an assessment his wife seconds.
“I was very excited, to think he could have his dream fulfilled where I actually grew up,” said Shalaun, who attended the news conference with her parents and Milt’s father, Kent Amos. “It’s been a whirlwind for us, and my parents are obviously over the moon, having their grandkids [ages 10 and 6] and their daughter back.”
Newton, who was born in the Virgin Islands, met his wife at the University of Kansas, where she ran track and he was part of a 1988 NCAA championship basketball team that became known as Danny (Manning) and the Miracles, a moniker that Newton said didn’t quite fit because “Danny was the miracle.”
Newton had been the Wizards vice president and player personnel director, a position that put him No. 2 in basketball decisions behind team President Ernie Grunfeld, and became acquainted with Saunders, who coached the Wizards from April 2009 to January 2012. With the Wolves, Saunders describes his own role as the “ultimate authority,” but he’s quick to add that Newton will have “an expanded role from what he had in Washington.”
Newton will be in charge of organizing and overseeing the overall basketball operation, and reshaping the basketball infrastructure in areas such as scouting. Newton said he thinks the Wolves “have some good pieces in place,” but it’s clear he believes more pieces are needed.
“Make no mistake, there’s a lot of work to be done if we want to win consistently, and win in a big way,” Newton said. “The roster is much improved over last year, but it has to get better.”
And therein lies Newton’s biggest challenge — and one of the reasons Saunders viewed him as the ideal candidate for the job. Newton spent three years early in his career working with NBA Commissioner David Stern in creating the NBA Development League, one of several sources of talent Saunders said the Wolves will need to tap into because of already being over the league’s salary cap.
“We’re not going to be in a situation where we’re going to be able to sign free agents for [significant] money,” Saunders said. “So what we have to do now, as an organization, we have to find players … whether that be overseas [or] in the NBADL.”
Saunders did make one thing clear: He did not hire Newton to be an insurance policy in case Rick Adelman decides at some point that the health of his wife, Mary Kay — she suffered several seizures during the past season — causes him to step aside and thrusts Saunders into the coaching role. Saunders said he has never asked Adelman directly if he is returning as coach this season, because the answer is so obvious.
“Rick right now is meeting with his staff for three days in Portland, and I talked to him [Monday] night for one hour,” said Saunders, who is also a Wolves minority owner. “As I said from Day 1 when I took this job, I’m very confident that Rick is going to be back. … Where Milt is an insurance policy is that, as being an owner, I get involved with a lot more than basketball. What he gives me is the ability to get involved with the business side, do things I need to do.”
Which leaves Newton to do his dream job as a GM. And his wife and in-laws to live their own dream.