Before Flip Saunders decided to pluck him from Washington, Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Milt Newton had come closest to running his own team in 2005, when he was finalist for a job in Cleveland that eventually went to Danny Ferry.
Newton would interview for a handful of other opportunities, but as he got passed over, his chances of ever breaking free seemed to diminish as the Wizards fell further into irrelevance. But during his introductory press conference with the Timberwolves on Tuesday, Newton said that he always remained optimistic that he would eventually fulfill a dream he set while in graduate school at Kansas nearly 22 years ago.
“I never wavered,” Newton said. “I had faith in God and I always had faith that it would happen, but it had to be the right opportunity. And this is the right opportunity coming to Minnesota where my wife [Shalaun] is from, she can spend time with her family, so this is the perfect fit for me.”
The Timberwolves also proved to the be the best fit since he already had a prior relationship with the Saunders, who got to know Newton during his 2½-year stint as head coach with the Wizards. Newton left an impression on Saunders in that time with his basketball acumen, work ethic and opinions about how a successful team should be built. And after taking over as president of basketball operations last May, Saunders made Newton is prime target.
Newton didn’t have a difficult time moving on, since his wife attended high school in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka. He will leave behind his parents his Washington, where he starred at Coolidge High, but Newton said that problem can easily be cured with a plane ride. His wife, her parents and his father were in attendance at his news conference. He took time to thank his family for their support throughout his journey and also expressed gratitude to Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld.
Though his opinion was respected in his 10 seasons with Washington, most recently as vice president of basketball operations, Newton is expected to have greater influence with the Timberwolves. “My role will change in that, along with Flip I will have an overall affect on the whole organization, while at Washington I was mostly in the personnel aspect of the organization,” he said. “So this is very much more and expanded role and I look forward to the task at hand.”
Saunders, who also has an ownership stake in the organization, said that he “will have ultimate authority” but added that Newton’s presence on the basketball side will give Saunders the chance to assist on the business side of the operations. “Milt’s going to have a lot of authority and it frees our whole organization up to do a lot of things,” Saunders said. “He will have a huge voice.”
When asked about the challenge ahead with the Timberwolves – a team that has the longest playoff drought – Newton said, “I think is some good pieces right now. Flip came in and did some heavy lifting upon rejoining the Timberwolves and added some really good veteran players to add depth, but make no mistake…there is a lot of work to be done if we want to win and win consistently and win in a big way. While the roster is much improved over last year, it has to get better.”
Newton becomes the third general manager from the 1988 national championship team from Kansas, joining San Antonio’s R.C. Buford and Indiana’s Kevin Pritchard. “It was just something that was on my mind,” Newton said of becoming a general manager. “My dad always told me that ‘you don’t have a job, you have a very well paid hobby,’ but it’s something that I love and it’s always good to do something that you love and that you can put your heart and soul into it.”