Appearing on Chad Hartman's show on WCCO radio, Wolves owner Glen Taylor revealed some of the short term future of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The key points:
First, the deal to sell part of the team (and eventually the majority share) to a group led by Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan is dead. Kaplan cannot resolve his ownership interest in the Grizzlies, and Taylor doesn't see him being able to for the foreseeable future. That kills the deal, and there are no current plans for a sale.
This is disappointing since the Wolves have needed new voices in the organization for a long time, but Taylor has been unable to find a suitable purchaser who will meet his conditions, which happily include keeping the team in Minnesota, but also include occupying a minority ownership position for an unspecified amount of time. At any rate, it's back to the drawing board.
Second, he refused to answer whether Sam Mitchell would return as head coach for next season. Taylor merely said that everything would be evaluated at the end of the season, though he did acknowledge that Mitchell stepped into a very difficult situation.
We'll write more about this in the coming months, but while I think Mitchell deserves some credit for certain things this season: getting the right guys on the floor (eventually), the team's offensive improvement as of late, and keeping them competitive in the last part of the season (something we've rarely seen in recent iterations of the Wolves), given the number of successful coaches that are out there I have to believe there is a better alternative.
Finally, Taylor said that Milt Newton, who was brought in as GM to work under Flip Saunders, and took over basketball operations on an interim basis following Saunders' passing, will handle the draft and free agency for the Wolves this summer.
At first I thought this meant that Newton was being given the POBO job on a permanent basis, but it turns out this isn't quite the case. Jon from AP later tweeted:
Picking up on Taylor's WCCO interview: Wolves owner tells AP he is keeping GM Milt Newton thru FA and draft to fully evaluate him— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) March 25, 2016
Taylor says he will make a definitive decision on Newton as GM after draft, FA. Doesn't think he could fully evaluate this season— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) March 25, 2016
This strikes me as both entirely Wolvesy and totally bizarre at the same time. Essentially it's letting a guy that you aren't sure yet whether you want to keep around make vital decisions for the franchise. Taylor is quoted in Jerry Zgoda's Star-Tribune article on the subject that
"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."
Proactivity and firm decision-making is not part of the Wolves ethos under Taylor.
None of which is meant to cast shade on Milt Newton, who might turn out to be good at the job. We haven't seen him make any significant moves yet since taking over, and whether he has been empowered to do so up until now remains unclear. Presumably he now has a free hand on the draft, and will likely have to spend some money in free agency and consider trade opportunities to help reshape the roster.
How Taylor intends to evaluate him on a draft and other activity before it gets onto the court is unclear, and I'm going forward with the assumption that Newton will be around next season unless something really untoward happens over the summer.
How much Newton might be involved in evaluating the coaching situation and being a part of a search for a potential new coach remains unclear. Meanwhile, it's also unclear how much Newton's presence as head of basketball operations might affect possible interest from potential coaches who might be seeking that control themselves. I've always been of the belief that it's better not to have one person both roles as coach and general manager, because I think multiple voices are important and because I think the goals of those two roles are distinct.
It's possible that Taylor has set things up this way--with Newton empowered but not permanent--because he wants to maintain flexibility to give some or all of that decision making power to a high profile coach he is hoping to recruit, whether that be Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, or someone else.
Or he's just dithering.
An interesting off-season is ahead for our Timberwolves.