Earlier this week, the Minnesota Timberwolves fired head coach Ryan Saunders and immediately replaced him with Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch. The move raised eyebrows across the league as it didn’t seem like the Wolves did their due diligence when it came to their coaching search. Some players, including Portland Trail Blazers stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, specifically questioned why Wolves assistant coach David Vanterpool was passed over for the opportunity.
On Wednesday, the National Basketball Coaches Association’s president Rick Carlisle and executive director David Fogel released a joint statement that expressed deep concern regarding the way the franchise went about hiring its new coach. The statement reads, in part, that Minnesota’s search wasn’t “thorough” or “transparent,” and that the NBCA will be working with the league in order to improve future coaching searches.
Here’s the full statement from the NBCA:
It’s always bittersweet when one coach is fired and another is hired. But this is not about individual coaches. We would be remiss not to acknowledge a deeper concern and level of disappointment with the Minnesota head coach hiring process.
The NBCA understands and respects each organization’s right to hire and fire whomever and whenever it chooses. But it is also our responsibility to point out when an organization fails to conduct a thorough and transparent search of candidates from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.
During this past off-season, we saw many NBA head coaching vacancies where teams led searches that were both diverse and transparent. This must be the standard. We must establish a level playing field and equal access to opportunity for all coaching candidates. The NBCA has been working closely with the League Office on a wide range of initiatives that will improve future coaching searches. In partnership with the NBA, we look forward to sharing details in the weeks to come.
For the NBCA, the end result in Minnesota’s coaching search isn’t the issue as Finch is a widely respected assistant who’s been in the running for head-coaching gigs in the past. Finch had even previously interviewed for the Timberwolves job that ultimately went to Saunders. The NBCA’s issue is the brief and seemingly cursory search that led to the hiring. Even if Minnesota’s front office felt that Finch was the right man for the job, the fact it didn’t even look at Vanterpool, who is qualified and also African-American, is bad optics for the organization.
Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas addressed the search during Finch’s introductory press conference, and said the team previously interviewing Finch was a big factor in the decision, as was the move being made in the middle of the season.
“Because of the platform we’re at, a lot of what this process and this search was about was going back to our original search when we hired Ryan,” Rosas said, via the Star Tribune. “Chris was a finalist there. … When we got that opportunity we were very aggressive with it because he’s a candidate that we have experience with through our last process and the guy we identified as a target for us.
“Anybody that knows me knows how important diversity is to me and it’s a big part of who I am and what I’m about,” Rosas added. “Our staff and the diversity we have speaks for itself. … There were other candidates, minority candidates we considered at this time. Unfortunately when you’re in the middle of a season, you’re really at the mercy of teams in terms of who can become available and who’s not available. That was a challenge for us as we went through the process.”
Obviously the Timberwolves made the move that they thought was best for them. Moving forward, though, it will be interesting to see if the league and the NBCA are able to work together to improve future hiring processes for coaches to make sure all qualified candidates are equally considered.