Minnesota Timberwolves open search for new president, coach

Jordan Hamilton, Damjan Rudez
New Orleans Pelicans forward Jordan Hamilton (25) drives the ball through Minnesota Timberwolves forward Damjan Rudez (10) and forward Adrian Price (33) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday in Minneapolis.
Stacy Bengs | AP

The Minnesota Timberwolves are embarking on a massive overhaul of their leadership and have hired a search firm to look for a new president of basketball operations and coach, the team announced late Wednesday night.

The search begins with candidates exclusively outside the organization, meaning GM Milt Newton and coach Sam Mitchell will not be considered for the openings. Two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former Thunder coach Scott Brooks are among the candidates who are targeted. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the team was not publicly commenting on the specifics of the search for a permanent replacement for president and coach Flip Saunders, who died from Hodgkin's lymphoma in October.

"The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves has never been brighter," Wolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement issued by the team. "It's important that we find the best leaders to shape our talented team and help them realize their full potential."

The new president will make a determination on Newton's future with the team. Mitchell said before the season finale against the Pelicans on Wednesday night that he was holding out hope to be brought back, but initial indications are that he faces extremely long odds to be retained.

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Taylor has hired search firm Korn Ferry to help in the search for a new coach, one that could end up giving the coach executive powers as well.

Saunders held both the coach and president of basketball operations titles and candidates such as Van Gundy, whose brother Stan holds dual roles in Detroit and Thibodeau could push for executive positions as well.

It was an aggressive move for Taylor, who has a history of sticking with those in the organization who have known him for a long time. Mitchell has known Taylor for two decades dating back to his time as a player with the Wolves and led the team to 12 more victories than they had last year heading into the final game.

But Taylor hired headhunter Jed Hughes to help him assemble a leadership team to provide stability at the top of a team loaded with young talent. He also appears to be intent on opening his wallet to land some high-profile leadership to help end the Wolves' 12-year playoff drought.

Mitchell said he spoke with Taylor on Wednesday morning.

"He's very pleased with the job I've done and what we've done as a staff," Mitchell said.

"But I think he feels like he owes it to the organization to make sure that he gets the person he's most comfortable with. I still feel like I'm the person, but he has to do his due diligence and I respect that."

The job or jobs, depending on who is hired, figure to be among of the most attractive on the market this spring with promising youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine headlining an athletic group. The Wolves also have a new practice facility and are beginning renovations on Target Center.

Mitchell placed in an incredibly difficult position when he was thrust after his friend Saunders died just days before the season tipped off.

Following a rocky January that dropped the Wolves to 14-36, Mitchell made several key adjustments and played a big role in developing the team's copious young talent.

"It's been huge," Wiggins said of the guidance from Mitchell and the rest of the coaches. "They put me in positions to succeed. They've never steered me wrong."

The Wolves won three straight games on the road last week, including an overtime victory at defending NBA champion Golden State. A 14-17 record over the past six weeks.

Many thought Taylor would stick with Mitchell after the signs of progress, but a woeful home record and a low public approval rating with fans could have played a role in Taylor's decision.

"I would be disappointed if something was promised to me, but it wasn't," Mitchell said. "I sat down with Mr. Taylor when he asked me to take over and no guarantees or promises were made. We knew this day was going to come. He's doing what he has to do as an owner of the team and this organization."

Newton was not immediately available for comment.

About two weeks ago Taylor said that Newton would remain as the primary decision-maker and run the draft and free agency before the owner made a full evaluation of the job he has done. But he appears to have changed that stance and now will leave that decision up to the new president.

Taylor thanked Newton and Mitchell for their work while put in a "historically challenging position."

Hughes has led many national searches in the NFL, the NBA and the NCAA, helping place Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, Stan Van Gundy with the Pistons and GM Masai Ujiri with the Toronto Raptors.