WASHINGTON, D.C. – Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on Friday clarified his team’s future following the October death of part-owner, coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, saying he will keep General Manager Milt Newton on the job making personnel decisions at least through July’s NBA free-agency period.
Deciding he hasn’t yet had the chance to fairly evaluate Newton’s performance, Taylor told WCCO-AM that Newton will run the June draft in which the team likely will have a top-six or -seven pick and the July free-agency period, when the league’s salary cap will balloon with the arrival of a new $24 billion television contract.
“That’s what I’ve asked him to do,” Taylor told the radio station.
Taylor also said he doesn’t expect to complete his negotiations to sell 30 percent of the franchise to Los Angeles private-equity investor Steve Kaplan and said he has turned to discussions about selling a lesser percentage to other investors without the intention that they will eventually buy controlling interest.
Taylor expanded Newton’s duties and made associate head coach Sam Mitchell the team’s interim head coach last September after Saunders was hospitalized with complications from his cancer treatments. Taylor later said he’d give both men the entire season to prove themselves on the job.
Relying upon young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, Mitchell has coached the Wolves to a 23-48 record entering Friday’s game at Washington.
Taylor didn’t address Mitchell’s future on Friday, other than to say he and team management will evaluate “everything” at season’s end.
Newton hasn’t made a trade yet while working his expanded duties. The transactions he has made have included buying out the contracts and releasing veterans Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, both of whom then signed with title contender San Antonio. He also signed D League center Greg Smith to two 10-day contracts and now for the rest of the season.
“With Milt, we haven’t had the draft yet,” Taylor said. “That’s such an important part of our future, and we haven’t had free-agency opportunities this summer. That’s coming. So there are just a lot of things for him to either display his talents or really help our organization in the future. We’ll just have to wait and see how he does.”
Saunders hired Newton in summer 2013 to help him with front-office duties after the two men worked together with the Washington Wizards. A starter on Kansas’ 1988 NCAA championship team, Newton worked a decade in Washington, eventually becoming the team’s vice president of player personnel. He had never run an NBA team’s personnel operations until September.
Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, said he expects Newton will bring in experienced people to help him with the draft and free agency.
“There’s nothing wrong with people getting people around to help and advise, sort of like consultants, people who have been around the league and have experience doing this,” Taylor said. “I’m sure that is one of the things I’d expect him to do. Not to take this all on himself, but to utilize others who have experience. By doing that, shows you have good leadership.”
Taylor had negotiated with Kaplan intending to sell him controlling interest eventually, a plan that Taylor, 74, called his responsibility to ensure the franchise’s succession as he ages.
“That’s probably not going to happen,” Taylor said of a sale to Kaplan’s group, citing Kaplan’s current ownership in the Memphis team as a complicating factor.
He said that could take “a couple years to get resolved” and said at “this particular point I don’t have anybody in mind” to become the team’s next majority owner.
Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman contributed to this story.