Wednesday, the Wolves parted ways with GM Milt Newton and interim head coach Sam Mitchell, while announcing that a search firm (Korn Ferry) would spearhead the effort to find a replacement (coach/President of Basketball Operations combo) or replacements (one coach, one P.O.B.O.). Given Glen Taylor’s history of sticking with familiar people, how shocked are you at these developments?
Steve: It’s certainly very un-Wolves-like, which is, frankly, encouraging. Whether this is Taylor changing or just handing the process over more completely to a third party like Korn Ferry to be done right, it seems like an acknowledgment that this is a very important and maybe even critical moment in the development of this team. They’ve already gotten lucky a few times in terms of getting Wiggins because LeBron decided he needed Kevin Love in Cleveland and making the right pick in Towns, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t plenty of time to screw it up by not getting this coach/POBO stuff exactly right.
Bill: Stunned. A few days later, I’m still not sure how to process it. Taylor’s opted almost exclusively for the comfortable and familiar for more than two decades, and now, at this critical juncture, he’s a cold pragmatist. It’s a good thing, I think – this is the kind of search that we all wanted – but the fact it’s really happening is still an incredible development.
Zach: I’m not entirely shocked about the coaching decision because for much of the year it sounded like the Wolves weren’t enamored with Sam as a long-term solution. There were certainly issues with him from a public perception because of the way he handled the media, but I don’t think the casual fan cares much about how he treats reporters. Mostly, I think it was the way some of the players were supposedly not thrilled about his style of coaching that put his future with the team in jeopardy. Where the situation became confusing regarding what the future looked like is Sam and the players turned the corner after January, and it looked like maybe he earned another year because that was possibly easier than the coaching search. Instead, he got the ax the morning of the final game (not cool, by the way), and now here we are.
In terms of Milt Newton, I’m pretty surprised by this. We had heard he was going to get the summer and maybe they’ll end up retaining him as the general manager long-term. But essentially going with the trendy dual-role situation (or that’s where it sounds like it’s headed) makes that complicated for keeping Newton around. I would’ve liked to see what he could do this summer.
Tim: I’m not completely shocked to see Mitchell go, though I was a bit surprised by how quickly it all took place. The decision to see Mitchell go wasn’t a shocking move, but I expected this to be a saga that took several weeks (if not more) to figure all this out. I enjoy seeing Taylor’s decision to hire an external crew to help field this search. To me, this move acknowledges his knowledge of the “country club” narrative circulating Wolves-ville.
One thing I’m not sure on: is Milt Newton really gone? From what I’ve read, I’m legitimately unsure, and it seems as though their decision hasn’t been made yet. One thing is clear, though: he will not be the one making final decisions on player personnel, draft, etc, after this year.
Your preference for coach must hinge on whether they’re also given the President of Basketball Operations job, I imagine. So let’s begin this way – who would you trust with both roles, if anyone?
Steve: I’m not entirely sure I trust anyone. To me, the jobs occupy very different headspaces and I don’t think there are very many people who can do both to the best of their abilities at the same time. That said, exactly how much of each job a given person does when they have that title is not entirely clear. Gregg Popovich is the coach and R.C. Buford is the general manager in San Antonio, but clearly Popovich has a lot of say on Buford’s side. To that extent, the whole coach/GM thing might be more about appearances and dealing with the public side of each job — especially the front office side — more than the nitty gritty. If that’s the case, and we’re talking about a dual position with lots of support that is respected and listened to, Jeff Van Gundy might be the best as far as juggling those two public roles simultaneously.
Bill: I’m with Steve in the sense that I’d like a division of labor among the coach and chief personnel decision-maker. The tricky part is weighing whether any coach would be worth tacking on the P.O.B.O. title and duties as an incentive to come here. Honestly, the job is so attractive that the Wolves shouldn’t have to do such a thing. I disagree that Jeff Van Gundy would be the best fit – he last coached nearly a decade ago, and when he was in the league, he had ready-to-win teams in New York and Houston that were assembled by other people. To me, there’s no one worth such a leap of faith.
Zach: Stan Van Gundy has made it look cool again, but he’s also Stan Van Gundy. He can make anything look cool. Well, maybe not Crocs. I’m not a huge fan of the dual-role of president of basketball ops and coach. Obviously, he’s not the only one doing the job of either. General manager and assistant executives end up helping with the day-to-day front office stuff, while player development and assistants help with the day-to-day coaching stuff. I still think it’s a tricky balance. Someone like Doc Rivers hasn’t handled it well, in my opinion, and I think making sure the checks and balances of both jobs are important. I’d advise against it, but I guess it depends on who ends up with that power and who ends up helping that person. I don’t really feel good about available candidates having that autonomy.
Tim: I’m with the three of you on this one. I’m not as big as some are in the POBO/HC combo, even though it seems more and more coaches are trying to make this their designation lately. It’s very, very hard to be a good coach, or a good basketball executive. With that in mind, it seems nearly impossible to find someone to be the head man in both departments. Even if the coach has lots of say in the player acquisition department, I think it’s best to have someone that helps keep the coach’s sanity (think of the time commitments a coach already has).
Steve: Overall, I prefer fresher guys to the war horses here, so I like Brett Brown (if rumors about the possibility of Philly letting him go are true, which is insane) or Dave Joerger to guys like Thibodeau and Van Gundy. I’m also firmly on board with whomever they could take from the Spurs — Ettore Messina or Becky Hammon, basically. But generally speaking I would like to see a coach who’s open-minded and young enough to grow with the team as the team grows.
Bill: I want to say Brett Brown (if he becomes available), because he seems like a terrific communicator who deserves a chance to coach something other than a roster that’s an insult to the league (which is all he’s had in his three seasons as the Sixers’ coach), but I feel most strongly about Scott Brooks. Tom Thibodeau would squeeze everything out of the team now, but Brooks, who’s handled stars as they came into their own and taken them to the Finals, would combine the best mix of the short and long views.
Zach: Love the idea of Brett Brown if the Sixers are stupid and fire him, but the guy I want more than anybody is Jarron Collins. People around the Warriors credit him and Ron Adams with the great start of the season while Luke Walton was receiving the accolades for being the interim coach in Steve Kerr’s absence. Collins is the next big deal in assistant coaches becoming head coaches and with the way he handles players and strategy, I think he’d be perfect for this young team. He’s analytically inclined as far as I’ve heard, but he was a player and can relate to what that grind is.
Tim: I’ll name someone different, even though I too am in on the Brett Brown scenario. Tom Thibodeau has a storied history of “burning out” some of his players (see: Luol Deng, Joakim Noah), but he also has a history of winning over a span of several years. If paired with the proper lead assistant, maybe one that helps him with minute management (I’m probably reaching here), this could work well. The Wolves deserve some winning, and history shows Thibs knows how to do that. Quickly.
All things considered, would you rate Sam Mitchell’s year as interim coach as being good, fair, or poor?
Steve: Fair to good, given that it’s over and he’s gone. I don’t necessarily think his relative success earned him a long-term contract, although it also didn’t automatically mean he should be let go. Nevertheless, by releasing him this quickly, the Wolves are signalling that they’re serious about getting serious, and the fact that they feel they can get serious right now is something of a testament to Mitchell’s work. Clearly, the organization feels the team has shown enough promise to attract high level coaches, and some of that is due to Mitchell’s work with them.
Bill: Good. The degree of difficulty was extremely high, especially at the beginning, but overall I think he did a good job of balancing veteran minutes with the younger players. I wish his offense had been more modern, of course, and I wish Zach LaVine’s transition to shooting guard had come a tad sooner, but the way the team battled late into the season was a testament to his work as a motivator. He was what they needed this year, and did a fine job.
Zach: I’d give him a 6 out of 10. Impossible beginning to the season and they dealt with it about as well as you could expect. Great finish to the season, and while the defense was a mess during that time, they were playing three 20/21-year olds heavy minutes, so I’m not sure how much you can expect from the defense during that stretch. The offense was great, even though they still didn’t shoot a lot of 3-pointers. Sam deserves credit for those successes and development, just as much as he deserves blame for the middle portion of the season when this team was atrocious. Some may feel a 6 out of 10 is too generous, but I offer it up with the clarification that I have my doubts in his ability moving forward to figure out or make up for any of those missing four points.
Tim: Fair. The way he finished the season legitimately impressed me, and not the stuff that he was knocked hardest for (LaVine PG stuff, three pointers, rotations). Aside from his general management of the team’s core, I think his late game management improved to end the season. The play that set up the Wolves’ win in Portland late in the season was so beautiful it nearly improved my rating of him from “fair” to “good”.
But too many things early in the season stayed with me. I’m not sure I want to give him as much credit for player development as others might, for example. LaVine improved throughout the season, but I wonder if it would have happened more quickly had he simply played shooting guard all year long, instead of jerking him around from spot to spot. I’ll get into it on a greater scale at another time, but all in all, I would have been okay to see Mitchell stay next year, which is a big jump from where he started with me.
Steve: It wasn’t done well, I’ll say that. The initial reports that a search was beginning but would include Mitchell were strange, to say the least. I’ve said before that it’s tremendously difficult to audition for the job when you already have it, and so it was putting Mitchell in an uncomfortable position for sure. The final word on it — which said simply that he was relieved of his interim coaching duties — makes sense viewed outside of the run-up to it, so here’s hoping they (or whoever is working on messaging) have straightened some of this up so that this kind of murky messaging doesn’t continue.
Bill: It was bullshit, as Britt more or less demonstrated at the end of last week. It’s the right decision to move on from him, and I’m not particularly indignant that he wasn’t afforded an interview, but to let him twist in the wind and have that shitty feeling before, during, and after the final game (especially as he faced the press) was absurd. I would have expected the Wolves to treat one of their own with a bit more class.
Zach: It was no bueno. Having it leak during the day and telling him the morning of the final game wasn’t good. Maybe that was the fuel behind sending him off with a victory and such a convincing win over an awful team, but regardless, it wasn’t right to handle it that way. Could have informed him after the game that his time with the team was done and not had it leak that day. It’s not that hard.
Tim: I will never understand why they decided to tell Mitchell (and, even worse, his players) before the final game. I understand it may have served as a way to pump up his players towards blowing out the injury-plagued Pelicans to end the year, but that’s not how you handle business. So no, I’m not a fan of how it was handled. At all.
Steve: Korn Ferry’s process for finding executive hires is a bit revolutionary, I understand. You place an ear of corn under your pillow before you go to sleep and in the morning, you’ll wake up to find the Corn Fairy has left a head coach and president of basketball operations under your pillow without even stirring you.
Bill: How did the overrated 90s metal band cross the stream? The took a Korn Ferry.
Zach: Hire Korn Ferry and you won’t drown in a maize of a coaching search.
Tim: I don’t know much, but I do know the next Wolves coach will be a Freak On A Leash.