Whenever there is a regime change at the top, it means there are going to be big changes everywhere else. So at some point, you’ll see that new regime clean house to clear out positions they’ll want to fill with their own guys and people they’ve had their eyes on from different organizations. When Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden were given control of everything basically under Glen Taylor, that mean they’d have to part ways with several people.
The Minnesota Timberwolves announced on Friday afternoon the people who have been relieved of their duties. The list of people includes Milt Newton, Rob Babcock, Sidney Lowe, Arnie Kander, Koichi Sato, and others. From the Wolves’ press release:
Minnesota Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau and General Manager Scott Layden this afternoon announced changes in the team’s front office and coaching structure:
“Effective immediately, the following individuals will be relieved of their respective duties: previous General Manager Milt Newton, Vice President of Basketball Operations Rob Babcock, Vice President of Sports Performance Arnie Kander, Assistant Coach Sid Lowe, Director of Sports Performance Koichi Sato, Manager of Team Travel/Facilities Coordinator Bill Hohenecker, Head of Video Department and Manager of Basketball Technology Brice Long and Scouts Milton Barnes and Jason Hervey.”
“We would like to thank all of these individuals for their contributions to our organization and wish them well in their future endeavors.”
The departure of Newton was a foregone conclusion. Once the Wolves hired Thibodeau and Scott Layden was going to be his right hand man in the front office, Newton’s days were numbered. There were thoughts that if Newton wanted to stay on board, essentially in a lesser role, then he’d be welcomed. That was never going to happen if that were true because it would have been a bit insulting to have Milt marginalized in that way. He knew it. The Wolves knew it. Everybody knew it. Now he can go off to another organization and help their front office.
Personally, I think Milt is a sharp mind and will have no trouble finding work with another team.
The Arnie Kander news is the one that will flip the lids of the diehards who made knowing the health process of the team part of their rooting interest. Kander is one of the best in the NBA. He was a legend when he worked for the Detroit Pistons for over two decades. He came in right away and got guys to buy into his voodoo ways. He was careful in how he dealt with Ricky Rubio coming off that ankle injury, and despite a lot of unnecessary fretting over Rubio missing six of the first 17 games, Rubio played in every game from December 1st through the end of the season.
He played the second most minutes of his career, thanks to some luck and a lot of Arnie, and had the best stretch of his career over the final couple months of the season. It seemed like as long as Arnie was going to be around, Rubio was going to be in great hands. So why would Thibodeau part ways with Kander? Well, it might not be as cutthroat as you imagine.
It sounds like Arnie wasn’t fully committing to being around the Wolves for an 82-game grind. He’s wanted to be with his family in Colorado after so much time invested in his NBA career. For him to stick around on the payroll, he was possibly aiming for a consulting type of position from Colorado. It’s not entirely clear how much time around the Wolves that would have left for him, and with the passing of Flip Saunders, Kander understandably wasn’t ready to commit for another full year.
He was supposed to be retired, or at least taking a break, last season anyway. He resigned from the Pistons and that’s when Flip pounced on trying to bring him to the Wolves. Because of his friendship and relationship with Flip, he decided to come to the Wolves. Then he stuck around for the entire 2015-16 season after Saunders’ passing and was going to reevaluate this summer. The odds of him coming back weren’t particularly great, so the Wolves decided to part ways.
Part of that also includes Koichi Sato, whom Flip brought to the organization to help them figure out their health problems back in 2013. When Flip took over that offseason, one of the first things he mentioned was getting this team to be healthy. After their injury-riddled 2012-13 season, Flip wanted to find ways to get ahead of the health issues and be as efficient in injury prevention, as they could be with helping guys recovering from injuries. He had worked with Flip in Washington as a rehabilitation guy and athletic trainer. I guess it makes sense to remove him as well, if Thibodeau has his own people for this.
Removing Rob Babcock and Sidney Lowe is part of this exorcism of the organization of sorts. People have complained about the country club mentality of the organization, and at least these two moves show a willingness to rid themselves of some of that. Admittedly, I don’t know very much about Bill Hohenecker or Brice Long. Milton Barnes and Jason Hervey were solid scouts, but Thibs wants to bring his own people into the scouting and video departments to match the intensity and work ethic of Thibodeau’s own maniacal ways.
The important part of this housecleaning is also the people who didn’t get removed from the organization. It sounds like Ryan Saunders, David Adelman, and Bryan Gates are safe for now (at least). These three were the strength of the coaching staff this season, so that makes sense. I’m curious to know what their roles will be. Will they all be assistant coaches if all three stay and if so, how many assistants will Thibodeau add to his coaching staff?
Saunders runs the draft workouts for the Wolves and is their best weapon when it comes to developing perimeter players. He was the one guy I was dead-set on them retaining. Adelman has done a phenomenal job working out players and helping them develop since he joined the staff when Rick Adelman was coaching the team. And Gates, while a newcomer, is one of the more well-respected assistants around the league. They have a wealth of knowledge and work ethic that should help this team become successful.
There was probably always going to be this movement toward cleaning house too, even if they didn’t hire Thibodeau for the dual-role. When the talks between Glen Taylor and Steve Kaplan were in place and progressing toward selling Kaplan some of the team, the fresh blood in the ownership group was likely going to have say in the team’s personnel moving forward. They definitely would’ve cleaned house with a lot of positions. This is just how things go with change.