During his one year away from the NBA, Tom Thibodeau took a 13-franchise tour looking for insight and ideas on how to structure a front office and build a team, one that included Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Boston.
He took a lot of notes.
Friday, in his first major move as Timberwolves president of basketball operations, Thibodeau, along with new General Manager Scott Layden, began implementing those ideas by relieving nine people of their jobs.
The list includes previous GM Milt Newton; Vice President of Basketball Operations Rob Babcock; VP of Sports Performance Arnie Kander; assistant coach Sidney Lowe; Director of Sports Performance Koichi Sato; manager of travel/facilities coordinator Bill Hohenecker; head of the video department and manager of basketball technology Brice Long; and scouts Milton Barnes and Jason Hervey.
Newton worked along with the late Flip Saunders to build the Wolves’ young nucleus. Most of Babcock’s two-plus decades in the NBA had been with the Wolves. Lowe, a player on the inaugural Wolves team, had several coaching stints with them, including a brief spell as head coach.
Both Newton and Babcock expressed disappointment, but no hard feelings.
“If you’ve been around sports, you know how things happen,” Newton said. “Once you bring in a new group they want to put their stamp on it. It’s part of the job. I definitely don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone. I wish those guys well. And I wish the players well.”
Said Babcock: “Nobody likes to be let go, but that’s part of this business. I’ve been through it on both ends. When someone comes in new, the likelihood is there will be changes. They’ll do an outstanding job here. I’m disappointed I don’t get to be a part of it. But I understand completely. I hold nothing against them at all. I had a great run. I’ve loved it, and I’ll be rooting for ’em.”
Newton said he can leave feeling he has helped put the franchise on good footing. “All I can say is Flip and I put a really good nucleus together,” he said. “I’m proud of what I did when I was there.”
In September 2013, shortly after returning to the Wolves as president of basketball operations and, eventually, head coach, Saunders hired Newton as GM.
It was the culmination of years of work for Newton, who was a scout for Philadelphia, worked as assistant director of USA Basketball and helped launch the NBA Development League.
He joined Washington as vice president of personnel in 2003. That was where Newton met Saunders, who coached the Wizards from 2009 to 2012.
Last fall, with Saunders battling, and ultimately succumbing to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Newton saw his duties expanded. He was given the job of running the Wolves on a day-to-day basis.
With the season winding down in March, owner Glen Taylor said he would keep Newton as the team’s decision-maker at least through the July NBA free-agency period. Clearly, things changed when, in April, the Wolves announced the hiring of Thibodeau and Layden.
Babcock has more than two decades of NBA management experience. That included two stints with the Wolves, the most recent when he returned in 2006 after two seasons as Toronto GM. In his time with the Wolves he had been a scout, director of player personnel, VP of player personnel, assistant GM and, most recently, VP of basketball operations.
Kander might have been a mutual parting of the ways; he came to work with Saunders last year, and his contract was up.
Assistant coaches Ryan Saunders, David Adelman and Bryan Gates were not among those notified Friday, though that doesn’t necessarily mean all three will be back for next season. But it appears Saunders likely will remain.