Memo to Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor:
Don’t take advice from anybody who suggests you not rehire Milt Newton as general manager, interim coach Sam Mitchell, assistant Sidney Lowe and the rest of the coaching staff for next season.
To bring in a new coaching staff and a new general manager would be the biggest mistake you’ve made in the years you’ve owned the franchise.
If you want to look at the positives, Newton was the general manager and had a lot to do with the late Flip Saunders in putting together one of the best three-year draft hauls in NBA history. And those players seem to be driving the turnaround of the Wolves, who have won three of four games against three likely playoff teams in the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and Toronto, beating the Raptors 117-112 on Wednesday at Target Center.
Saunders was second-guessed in 2013 when he traded the No. 9 pick to move back and draft guard/forward Shabazz Muhammad at No. 14 and center Gorgui Dieng at No. 21.
He was second-guessed in 2014 when he took guard Zach LaVine at No. 13, and also waited to trade Kevin Love until he could get Cleveland to give up the No. 1 overall pick in that draft, guard/forward Andrew Wiggins, in the deal.
Then last year, they without a doubt made a tough choice in selecting center Karl-Anthony Towns instead of Jahlil Okafor with the No. 1 pick, but it might prove to be the second-best selection in franchise history after Kevin Garnett.
Bringing in veteran players such as Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller to mentor the young players also has been a big plus.
This is the best young team in the league, they’ve already won more games (17) than they won last year.
On Wednesday they protected a late lead, something they have struggled with, and showed why so many people are excited about this squad going forward.
Towns finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and shot 12-for-19 from the field and 11-for-13 from the free-throw line. Wiggins ended up with 26 points and hit 10 of 13 free throws, with three rebounds and two steals. Dieng posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and added six assists, two steals and a block. And Ricky Rubio played one of his now-common all-around games, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and one steal.
This team isn’t far off from being a playoff contender and, even better, could have championship potential in only a few seasons.
Stars under 20
The brightest part of the Wolves’ future is that they have three of the great young stars in the league who are all 20 years old or younger in Wiggins, Towns and LaVine, to go along with other young standouts in Dieng and Muhammad.
Wiggins and Towns are most likely going to win back-to-back NBA Rookie of the Year awards. The last time a team had back-to-back winners in that category was the Buffalo Braves in 1972-1973 with Bob McAdoo and in 1973-74 with Ernie DiGregorio.
Going into Wednesday night, their stats backed up their star potential.
Wiggins continues to be the best young scorer in the league averaging 20.7 points this year, up from 16.8 last season, and was also shooting better at 44.7 percent compared to 43.7 percent last year.
In the history of the NBA, Wiggins has the eighth-highest season scoring average for any player 20 years old or under. The players in front of him are LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (twice each), Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis.
Meanwhile, Towns is on a short list of rookies who have averaged at least 15 points and 10 rebounds in a season. Towns is at 16.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. Blake Griffin (22.5, 12.1), Tim Duncan (21.1, 11.9) and Elton Brand had (20.1, 10.0) are the others.
Among rookies, Towns is second in scoring, first in rebounds by a large margin, tied for third in field-goal percentage (54.1 percent), second in free-throw percentage (85.3 percent), second in blocks (1.79 per game) and first in double-doubles with 29.
He’s easily the best rookie big man the league has seen since Davis three years ago.
When it comes to LaVine, even Mitchell would acknowledge he has been riding the second-year player hard this season as he tries to get him accustomed to playing both point guard and shooting guard.
But lately LaVine’s hard work seems to be paying off. He has averaged 18.1 points on 53.6 percent shooting to go along with 3.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game over his past eight contests before Wednesday’s game. In those games LaVine is averaging 30.2 minutes per game.
In the 45 games before his recent run, LaVine was averaging 11.8 points on 41.4 percent shooting with 3.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 23.0 minutes per game.
In a league that has already seen five coaches fired by midseason, the importance of having continuity for the team’s young talent is extremely important.
Garnett already has come out in full support of Mitchell as the coach to lead this team into the future, and Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, should do the same.
• Western Kentucky has hired Tony Levine, the former Gophers wide receiver and St. Paul native who posted a 21-17 overall record and 14-10 conference record for the University of Houston but was fired despite reaching back-to-back bowl games. Levine will coach the tight ends and special teams at Western Kentucky.
• The Wall Street Journal reports that former Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder and his wife, ESPN reporter Samantha Ponder, have settled down in Phoenix and bought a home for $2.2 million. … USA Today’s latest 2016 NFL mock draft predicts the Vikings will take Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins with the No. 23 pick.
• Robbie Hummel, who played with the Timberwolves last season, was playing in Europe this year until he injured his shoulder. He was seen sitting on the Purdue bench Tuesday night in the Boilermakers’ victory over Michigan State.
• Butler Community College co-offensive coordinator Brice Vignery is confident Gophers commitment Kobe McCrary will fit into their system. McCrary carried the ball 225 times for 1,190 yards, an average of 5.3 yards per carry, and 22 touchdowns last year.
• Rochester John Marshall senior Michael Hurt, a Gophers recruit for next season, has a brother named Matthew who is a 6-9 freshman starting for the Rockets and averaging 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He is considered the top recruit in the state for the Class of 2019. He is being recruited by the Gophers, Northwestern, Marquette, Stanford and Virginia.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org