Written By BILL KISER
Daily News Staff

It’s been a heady — and busy — 48 hours for St. Thomas native Milt Newton.

 

Just two days after the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Atlanta Hawks in six games to win the Eastern Conference title, Newton is neck-deep in the Bucks’ preparations to play in their first NBA Finals since 1974.

 

That’s not a problem for Newton — Milwaukee’s assistant general manager — as the Bucks head into tonight’s Game 1 in the best-of-seven series against the Phoenix Suns. Game time is 9 p.m. Atlantic.

 

“Yeah, if you really think about it like that,” Newton said in a telephone interview Monday with The Daily News. “But this is something that was the goal from the beginning, so we’re just seeing it play out. It’s kinda cool, ya know?”

 

The 55-year-old Newton has been with Milwaukee since the 2017-2018 season, and has played a major role in building a Bucks roster that has become an NBA championship contender the past three seasons.

 

“Having talent like Giannis

[Antetokounmpo, named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2019] and guys like Khris [Middleton, who has played for the Bucks since 2013], the two building blocks, then going out and getting guys to compliment them,” Newton said. “It’s a process, and it’s something we’ve been working on for years.

 

“We got to the Eastern Conference finals against Toronto three years ago and came up short, so we added some more pieces and got past that hurdle against a really good Atlanta Hawks team. Now we’re playing for a championship, and that was the intent from the beginning.”

 

While this is Newton’s first time with a team in the NBA Finals, playing for a championship isn’t a new thing.

 

Newton was a key member of the University of Kansas squad that won the 1988 NCAA Championship. He was one of two Jayhawks players named to the all-tournament team (the other was Final Four MVP Danny Manning).

 
 

After playing pro ball for two seasons in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association, as well as overseas for pro teams in Belgium and Australia, Newton set his sights on his future in basketball — in the front office.

 

That journey began as a scout with the Philadelphia 76ers. After spending time as assistant director of USA Basketball and in the NBA’s office (where he helped launch the NBA Developmental League, now called G-League, in 2005), Newton landed his first front office job in 2003 with the Washington Wizards, as their vice president of player personnel.

 

Ten years later, Newton earned his first general manager’s post, with the Minnesota Timberwolves, in 2013. However, he was released by the team after the 2015-2016 season as part of a front office shakeup.

 

A year later, Newton was brought on by Milwaukee as assistant GM to Jon Horst after he was promoted from director of basketball operations.

 

“Putting something together, helping to put something together, was very intriguing for me,” Newton said. “I always said I wanted to be the general manager of a team, and was able to do that. I’m just continuing that quest to get that opportunity again. But that’s been my mindset since Day 1.”

 

While players like Antetokounmpo and Middleton were already on the Bucks’ roster, Newton played a role in filling out the other spots, either through the draft (like guard Donte DiVincenzo in 2018), trades (Jrue Holiday was acquired from New Orleans in 2020, and P.J. Tucker from Houston this year), on in free agency (like Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis).

 

“It’s a team culture, a team environment,” Newton said. “No decisions are made without a lot of collaboration. At the end of the day, the final decision is by the GM and ownership. But that’s been the one thing that been our environment since Day 1 — we get together, and whatever the problem is, we beat it up … and make a decision based on the best outcome from all the information we’ve gathered.”

 

That culture has put Milwaukee back in the NBA Finals, and on the 50th anniversary of the Bucks’ first and only NBA championship — won in 1971 behind Hall of Fame players Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

 

“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re here now,” Newton said. “We’re enjoying the moment, we’re enjoying the experience and opportunity. Now we’ve got to complete this thing and bring [the NBA title] home.”

 

— Contact Sports Editor Bill Kiser at 340-714-9117, or email bkiser@dailynews.vi.