Wolves cut Sam Mitchell loose, start their search to replace him

ByBrian Windhorst ESPN logo
Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Minnesota Timberwolves say they have relieved interim coach Sam Mitchell of his duties and will open a search for a new head coach and a new president of basketball operations on Thursday.

Team owner Glen Taylor spoke with Mitchell and general manager Milt Newton on Wednesday to inform them that they will not be included in the search, sources told ESPN.com. Newton is expected to stay on while the search is conducted and until the new front office leadership is established.

The Wolves made the announcement on Wednesday night after finishing the season with a 144-109 win over New Orleans. Mitchell took over as coach after Flip Saunders died in October, and he led the team to a 29-53 record.

Taylor hired search firm Korn Ferry to aide in the process. With their young talent, another high draft pick and salary-cap space, the Wolves believe they have a premier job opening and are expected to be very aggressive in going after top candidates.

It is possible they will make two hires or hire a coach who has oversight over the front office as Saunders did, sources said.

"The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves has never been brighter,'' 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 Wolves are expected to reach out to Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks, a former Timberwolves player, as part of the process, sources said. Thibodeau has been interested in returning to the sideline in a position where he could have some say in personnel matters.

Also on the Wolves' list, sources said, is current Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. A Minnesota native, Joerger interviewed with the Wolves two years ago while he was Grizzlies coach but ultimately decided to remain in Memphis.

Joerger and Taylor maintain a positive connection from that process even though Joerger decided not to accept the job, sources said.

Joerger is under contract with the Grizzlies for next season for $2 million, making him one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league. The Grizzlies have a team option for the 2017-18 season for $2.5 million.

The new president will make a determination on Newton's future with the team. Mitchell, who led the Wolves to 13 more victories than they had last season,said before Wednesday night's game that he was holding out hope to be brought back, but initial indications are that he faces extremely long odds to be retained.

Mitchell's dismissal 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.

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 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.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.